From serving up Italian classics at a local staple to dishing out fare fit for Mickey and friends at Walt Disney World, Nick Senuk’s culinary career path has traveled a diverse course.
These days, it’s veered to his own restaurant, Meat in the Middle Delicatessen, on Lackawanna County Courthouse Square in Scranton.
The 23-year-old Clarks Summit native entered the world of hospitality at 16, when he got a job as a dishwasher at Colarusso’s Cafe in his hometown. While he was grateful for the work, he wasn’t satisfied creatively.
“I hated it,” Senuk said. “I always wanted more.”
One night, an opportunity opened up, allowing Senuk his first experience as a fry cook. From then on, he worked as a floater on the line and realized he would love to own his own business one day.
The Abington Heights High School grad wasn’t entirely sure if college was right for him, but he knew a culinary arts track would be his only path if he did attend. Senuk applied to Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, where he was not only accepted but also offered a scholarship.
As he worked toward his associate degree, he completed an internship at Walt Disney World in Florida, starting as a sautee cook in The Wave... of American Flavors restaurant at the high-end Contemporary Resort. Senuk was hired full-time as a cook 2, and eventually was promoted to cook 1 and trainer. Six months into his tenure with the Disney company, he moved to the Crystal Palace restaurant in the Magic Kingdom theme park, where guests enjoyed his food while they met characters.
“It was fast-paced and a good learning experience,” Senuk said. “I learned more on the job (than at school). Disney taught me a lot of discipline.”
While Senuk enjoyed the weather and culture in Florida, he missed his family, and so he returned to Northeast Pennsylvania and his old job at Colarusso’s. While he was happy to work alongside the owners who taught him so much again, he began to lose his passion for food, he said. Senuk even left to work in blacktopping for a while, but just as that job was about to take him to Texas, where work was available during NEPA’s wintery off-season, a fortuitous call stopped him.
“I was walking out the door with my backpack on, and my cell phone rang with an unknown number. It was an old friend telling me about the deli in Scranton, and that was enough for me to say, ‘It’s a sign,’” Senuk recalled. “I came to look at it the next day.”
The North Washington Avenue spot practically guaranteed high traffic from nearby downtown office workers, and Senuk immediately saw a vision of his future.
“I didn’t have a name. It took forever to build the menu. But I knew I wanted it,” Senuk said. “I’m happy to be part of the rebuild of Scranton.”
He signed a three-year lease for Meat in the Middle, which has seating for 32. After several weeks of preparation, he opened the doors April 2. Together with three employees and help from his mother, Lisa, Senuk serves deli classics with a twist six days a week. Among his most popular sandwiches are the Classic Italian and the Italian Supreme, the latter of which tops off with sopressata and prosciutto; the Spicy Chicken Avocado, made with American cheese, bell peppers and spicy mayo; the Hot Pastrami Mommy, which comes with pepperjack cheese, jalapeños and Thousand Island dressing on marble rye; and the Courthouse, which combines ham, turkey, coleslaw and mayo on a pressed ciabatta.
“I tried to keep it simple but brought some of the flavor profiles I learned in school or Disney,” Senuk said. “And the daily specials have been picking up.”
He credits his parents, including dad, Sam, with helping him navigate the intricacies of entrepreneurship, but he also trusts the process of finding his way.
“Without them, my dream would be nothing,” Senuk said of his family. “Everything I learned in my past brought me to today and where I am. I have a lot of confidence in what I put out. It’s a good product. Once I did this, I knew I could accomplish a lot if I work hard and put my mind to it.”
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Meat in the Middle Delicatessen
Address: 209 N. Washington Ave., Scranton
Owner: Nick Senuk
Established: April 2, 2018
Cuisine: New World-style deli
Hours: Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Online: Visit the restaurant’s Facebook page or meat