On a Saturday morning, when Beachside Grill & Deli was closed, visitors forgetfully went to its back door, down a long corridor in Cocoa Beach’s landmark Cape Royal Building, rather than its front, to visit “Deli Mike” Duclos.
“Open up, papi,” barber Nelson Rivera called as he joyfully tapped out a Latin-style drumbeat on the door before Duclos opened it, hugged Rivera and admitted his guests.
They were among his last, for after the following day, when he served the post-church crowd, Deli Mike was no more, having sold the business after 13 years, with plans to move to his home in Costa Rica, permanently.
When the restaurant will reopen is unknown, but Duclos will be feted with a party at 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 29, at Sunset Café Waterfront Bar & Grill, 500 W. Cocoa Beach Causeway. All are invited.
It will mark the next step in a love affair that started in 2010 between a city and one of its businessmen.
“My place in Costa Rica is called Playa Cacao, and you know what that means in Spanish?” burly, crewcut, tattooed Duclos asked. “It means Cocoa Beach. That’s something, isn’t it? I love Cocoa Beach because I love the people here, but it’s time to retire.”
His other guests — his sister, Lynn McCann; and her husband, Lee Kramer, who started the restaurant with him — nod and smile with him.
“We opened this place is 2010. Lee was up here and I was in Miami. It (the site) sat empty and had already been five or six restaurants, so we took a chance on it because it was what I wanted to do,” said Duclos, a former ironworker and tavern owner in South Florida.
“Mike and Lee went in on it together,” McCann said. “Lee went on to different ventures, but Michael stayed.”
This venture was one of breakfast and lunch for hungry businesspeople and their clients as well as lines of locals and cruise lines passengers, some of whom chose to stay in the tiny dining room for good company while others pulled up, picked up and left. Beachside Deli always has been fast, and as long as Duclos was there, everyone who bought a meal there received a homemade popsicle for dessert.
That is a miracle of sorts, because by all measures, Deli Mike shouldn’t be fast at much of anything. He shows off hands that are gnarled and stiff, the results of past conditions and the multiple neck and back surgeries that followed. Scans show a cervical spine that has been entirely surgically rebuilt.
“My hands are partially paralyzed,” he said. “I’ve been called the best two-finger cook around. Hah!”
That was the reason customers were asked to pour their own beverages and grab their own chips to go with lunch, McCann said. And the best two-finger cook around was reputed to have made the best chicken salad and Reuben sandwiches around, so the drinks and chips flew.
His injuries helped make him love Cocoa Beach all the more, for when it became known to them that Duclos could not work at various times, family members like McCann and Kramer and customers like Dick Dunlap and Linda Hughes stepped up and filled in at no charge to the restaurant. McCann served as his nurse.
“They helped me out a lot and I can’t thank them enough,” Duclos said.
But conversation turned to Costa Rica again, and Duclos even has a banner that reads “Playa Cacao en Golfito” that he and Kramer held up in the restaurant. He cannot wait to get there, he said, and rolled out two packed suitcases to prove it.
His sister thinks he will miss Cocoa Beach, and she is concerned about him being that far away, in another country, alone.
“It is so beautiful, and the people are great, so friendly,” Duclos countered. “Nelson has been helping me with my Spanish.”
Rivera is not crazy about Duclos leaving either.
“I’m going to miss Mikey like I’m going to miss my own loving grandpa,” he said. “It’s too soon for him to leave, and the more I know him, the better I like him. The food is great, but what has made the deli is Mike’s personality. He is, it is, so nice. I’m going to miss him so much.”
Lyn Dowling is a Suntree-based freelance food and lifestyles writer.
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Beachside Grill & Deli in Cocoa Beach closes after 13 years