2022 Businessperson of the Year: Fred Schultz

Bacon, egg and cheese. Bright and early.

It’s a breakfast beloved by many, including Greenport seniors living on Third Street, high school students who just got out of class and a passenger who just stepped off the North Ferry.

“We welcome them all with open arms,” said Fred Schultz, co-owner of the Sterlington Deli in Greenport Village. 

For Mr. Schultz, 55, it’s more than just a sandwich that’s served up daily: It’s a lifestyle of service that he’s cultivated since he was a child. 

The Jamesport resident feels as though he’s a guide of sorts for customers to start their day. From opening its doors at 6 a.m. until closing at 3 p.m., Mr. Schultz said, he “gets a piece of everybody in the morning before they go to work, to get their day going.”

He owns and operates the eatery at 3 Sterlington Commons with his mother, Kerrin. She’s worked in the industry since she emigrated to the U.S. at age 16 with her husband, Oluf. 

“Both of his parents came here from Germany, so that’s all [Fred’s] ever done,” Mr. Schultz’s wife, Deb, explained. “It just kind of happened.”

For his humble nature and continued service to Greenport residents, visitors and tourists from all walks of life, The Suffolk Times has named Fred Schultz its 2022 Businessperson of the Year.

“The Schultz family have had delis all over Long Island: Smithtown, Patchogue, then we came out to Greenport,” Mr. Schultz said. “The history of the deli business has been in our family for years.”

The family opened its first deli in 1977 in Brooklyn, which was commonplace for many German families, he explained. 

Fred Schultz was just 10 when his parents opened that first store. As a kid, he remembers “a lot of hard work and learning on the fly.” His parents never forced him into the deli business, he said; instead, he was naturally drawn to it: “I always liked the frenetic pace, serving the community.”

By the time his father died in 1986, the family were operating a deli in Patchogue. Kerrin Schultz sold that location and came out to Greenport. In 1988, she opened the Sterlington Deli many know and love today, and “we’ve been in that spot ever since,” said Deb Schultz, who has two daughters, Sadie and Ellie, with Fred.

But the years haven’t gone without hiccups. 

The deli faced a tragedy in 1999, when an electrical fire broke out overnight and burned the deli to the ground.

“It was shocking,” Mr. Schultz reflected. “It’s a living thing and then all of a sudden it’s shut down. It’s kind of like losing a person.” 

It took them nine months to rebuild. 

Greenport resident Laura Clark, who started at the deli full-time in the mid-1990s, was put out of work when the fire struck. But she knew she wasn’t leaving for good: She picked up a temporary job at the East Marion post office but recalled, “I told them right off the bat, when my deli gets redone, I’m going back,” adding that she’s stuck around because of their kindness.

“I’ve been there forever because they’ve always been good to me. If I was to walk in there tomorrow and say ‘I need 10 days off,’ they’d say, ‘Fine,’ ” Ms. Clark said. 

Like many North Fork businesses, the Sterlington struggled to stay on its feet during the COVID-19 pandemic. But it never shut its doors, operating instead with fewer employees and doing half the business, Mr. Schultz said. 

“COVID definitely hurt all the businesses on the North Fork, but the community came together,” he said. “A lot of customers came in and helped out and did the right thing.” 

One staff member who remained on the team was Greenport resident Miguel Sandoval, who goes by Michael. Mr. Sandoval has been working behind the Sterlington counter for over 20 years.

Despite the pandemic struggle, the deli donated food to hospital workers at Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital and residents and workers at San Simeon by the Sound.

“It was a change for everybody,” Mr. Sandoval said. “Just being there when everybody was not there — that means a lot. They were always there, helping the hospital, doing what they needed to do to survive.”

Mr. Schultz continues to show empathy for his stalwart regulars: If a faithful customer is missing a dollar when they’re rung up, the business will let it slide without a hitch. 

“I think if you’re loyal to us, coming in the store all the time, we’re going to take care of you if you’re having a bad day,” Mr. Schultz said. “That applies to everyone.”

Mr. Sandoval, now 35, first met Mr. Schultz when he began working at the Sterlington at age 15. At such a young age, he was inspired by his employer.

“Since then, I’ve always said to everybody, ‘I’d like to grow and be someone like himself,’ ” Mr. Sandoval said. “That’s just how proud I feel about knowing him in that … peapod of business, and his life.”

Ms. Schultz said she’s witnessed Fred “in the zone” whenever she stops by: “He’s always the same — he’s consistently happy, friendly, outgoing and has this positive personality,” she said. “I think that’s part of the reason why they’re so successful there. People love coming in, seeing him and joking around because he makes it just a positive experience.”

Kathy McLinskey of Orient, who stops by regularly with a group of friends, said the deli is one of their go-to breakfast and lunch spots.

“It’s a very friendly and open atmosphere,” Ms. McLinskey said outside the deli in mid-December. “Fred greets everyone with a smile, and he has a good sense of humor. It’s just a nice place to hang out, myself and a bunch of other ladies.”

But Mr. Schultz credits his mother — “the backbone of the deli” — and his eight dedicated employees for their continued success. 

“I think your store is just as good as your help,” he said. “Your employees are a key component of your business.”

Mr. Sandoval said his boss, an avid Jets fan, will show up to work regardless of the day of the week or weather conditions. “He’s a hard worker. He’s always there no matter what,” he said. “There can be a snowstorm, he’s still there.” 

As a local, Mr. Sandoval said everybody knows about the Sterlington. But it’s the hospitality — and the classic BEC — that keeps them coming back.

“There are like three generations of people growing up in Greenport and going [to the deli] every day,” he said. “I’ve talked to people, some moved down south to Florida. Anywhere, you name it — they always come back … Anyone who comes home, they need to get that bacon, egg and cheese. No doubt.”

Previous Winners

2021: Paul Romanelli
2020: Southold Pharmacy
2019: Marc LaMaina
2018: Chris Manfredi
2017: George Giannaris
2016: Lucy Senesac
2015: Wendy Zuhoski
2014: Greenport Harbor Brewing Co.
2013: Charlie Manwaring
2012: Jill Schroeder
2011: Shelley Scoggin
2010: Peconic Landing
2009: Rocky DiVello
2008: John Romanelli
2007: North Fork Press/Academy Printing
2006: Soundview Restaurant and Inn
2005: Joe Frohnhiefer
2004: Dan Damianos
2003: The Arcade
2002: Kate McDowell
2001: Mattituck Chamber of Commerce
2000: The Harbes Family
1999: Sue Rempe
1998: Bob Scott
1997: Jackie Copas
1996: Richard Mullen
1995: The Claudios
1994: Jeff Strong
1993: The Hargraves
1992: The Rowsoms
1991: Mark Middleton
1990: John Wickham
1989: Ray Terry
1988: Dave LeFreniere
1987: Linda Livni