Sixty years on: Cyril's deli to close

Cyril Vincenc says it's time to close the doors on his deli.
Cyril Vincenc says it's time to close the doors on his deli. Photo: Steven Siewert SWS

"There was a store in a town close to mine that I used to pass as a young boy, and I loved the smell of it,"   deli owner Cyril Vincenc says.

"There was such an aroma about it. In my mind, I always wished to have a store like that."

Tucked under an arch on Hay Street, Cyril's Fine Foods has been serving its loyal customers since it opened in 1956.

"Many of my customers will come in and say,  'You're still here, Cyril?' " he laughs.

But  now, after 60 years,  Sydney  is to lose one of its oldest and best  known delis.

"This is my home. But what can you do? It is better to part with it when you can, and not to leave it until it is too late," he says, referring to his declining health.

After growing  up in Czechoslovakia, Vincenc  came to Australia in 1949, aged 17. He opened Cyril's Fine Foods in Haymarket seven years later, filling  the shelves with middle and northern European smallgoods – from smoked kaiserfleisch to pickled cabbage.

 In competition with  other delis in the area, Cyril's success was built on attracting European  migrants after the war to  buy goods that  reminded them of home. 

"I had competition on this same street – there was a deli called Slavic's Deli that was so busy all the time. [The owner] used to let five people in and close the door, then let them out once they were finished," Vincenc says.

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"I said to myself, 'that is not the way to do it'."

And he hasn't moved since. Cyril's Fine Foods is believed to be the longest standing store in Sydney with a single owner.

Over the years, the  aromas from  Vincenc's deli have tantalised everyone from Russians to Romanians.  It was through Vincenc that we learnt to appreciate the saltiness of smoked and baked pastrami, to taste test zacusca (a Romanian vegetable spread) and to take home pork   pelmeni (Russian dumplings).

"I always try to find things to sell that I like myself," Vincenc says.

"If you like something, you can present it well to the customer."

Vincenc's approach has made a lasting impact. For years,  he has supplied the who's who of the country's food industry, from Neil Perry to Margaret Fulton. The late Kerry Packer, "one of (his) most loyal customers," enjoyed deliveries of smoked salmon, tinned caviar and chocolate that were sent to his Bellevue home.

And it is his loyal customers that he will miss the most.

"For me, customers are the most important thing. I talk and laugh with them, so that they become your friends. You've got to develop people's trust," he says.

"That is something you cannot buy."

Vincenc and his family closed the doors to their beloved store on Saturday, September 26, for what will be "an end to an era".

But his legacy as a warm, hard-working deli owner has been forged in the hearts of many.

"I'm very happy with what I've done here. I think I've done the right thing for everybody, and I have gone out of my way to make it better. That's what matters to me."