With its cozy booths, hot drinks and delicious sandwiches, Pappa Charlie’s Deli seems like the perfect college lunch place. Located just past Lasell Gym on Spring Street, the deli has served countless students and professors over the decades. But it is not just Ephs who have stood at the counter, eyeing the chalkboard menu and trying to decide between the Gwyneth Paltrow, Olympia Dukakis and the Christopher Reeve. Over the years, Pappa Charlie’s has served a number of celebrities whose names have then been placed on the deli’s menu as the name of a new sandwich or meal.
Pappa Charlie’s has been a staple in Williamstown cuisine since 1976, when it was first opened. It was named after former owner “Pappa” Charlie Nikitas. For the past seven years, the deli has been owned by Jennifer and Christopher Karampatsos. The two had some prior knowledge of the food business (Christopher Karampatsos’ father is a chef who works at the deli in the mornings), so when the opportunity arose to buy Pappa Charlie’s, they grabbed it.
The deli is sustained throughout the year by business from students, professors, locals, visiting athletic teams and tourists drawn by Williamstown’s fall foliage. The deli’s busiest time of the year, however, is summer. The summer rush begins around graduation time and climaxes during the Williamstown Theatre Festival, which has brought much of the notable clientele advertised by the eclectic menu.
Many of these celebrities’ visits predated the Karampatsoses’ time at Pappa Charlie’s, but Jennifer Karampatsos said that she has had the chance to meet a fair few of them during her tenure, including Justin Long, Nicholas Martin, Neil Patrick Harris and Steven Weber, all of whom were drawn to Williamstown for the Theatre Festival. Jennifer Karampatsos described her encounters with these celebrities as relatively normal. “They’re just ordinary people,” she said. But the deli does memorialize these visits in a special way, through the collection of autographed portraits on the Wall of Fame and of course, through sandwich naming.
Jennifer Karampatsos says that the “rule of thumb” is that if a notable customer comes in three or four times, she will then ask if the person would like to have his or her name as the title of a sandwich. The answer has not always been yes. According to Jennifer Karampatsos, Bradley Cooper, for instance, had “no interest” in titling a sandwich, despite his summer-long residence in Williamstown. So instead, they simply took his picture, which now hangs on the deli’s wall. While Macklemore also briefly came into Pappa Charlie’s during his visit to the campus last spring, it was not when Jennifer Karampatsos was in the shop, and his Williamstown stop was too brief to allow him to take a spot on the menu.
Other celebrities, however, have been much more enthusiastic. Steven Weber, for instance, an actor from NBC’s program, Wings, filmed a brief skit that inaugurated his “sandwich debut.” The video, which has since been uploaded to YouTube, shows Weber coming into the shop to place his order, modeling the new sign that reads: “Steven Weber – roast beef, Swiss, tomato and mustard on whole wheat bread.”
Kate Burton has also displayed a great degree of interest in her sandwich. The actress, who plays Meredith Grey’s mother on the ABC drama Grey’s Anatomy, has visited Pappa Charlie’s several times in the years since her initial visits. She recently contacted the Karampatsoses because “She wanted to change her sandwich,” Jennifer Karampatsos explained. Burton’s original order was a bagel with cream cheese, onion and tomato. But a previous owner of Pappa Charlie’s thought the meal would be better with meat, so he added some hot ham to the Kate Burton. Burton wanted the hot ham taken off. The problem, Jennifer Karampatsos said, is that “people like the sandwich the way it is.” A glance at the chalkboard menu shows that other celebrities also maintain vested interests in their sandwich namesakes. A little addendum was made to the Mary Tyler Moore option on the menu (avocado, bacon, lettuce and tomatoes) that says Moore recently called the deli, informed them that she had turned vegetarian sometime after her visit and asked the deli to make her sandwich vegetarian. Although Pappa Charlie’s decided to keep the Mary Tyler Moore as it is, they added a sandwich to the menu, as per her request, that is identical to the first – except, of course, bacon-free.
The Mary Tyler Moore is one of the deli’s most popular orders, along with the Dr. Strangepork (hot turkey, melted provolone, bacon, lettuce and tomatoes) and the Harry J. Katz (hot roast beef, turkey, ham, melted Swiss cheese, coleslaw and Russian dressing). Any of these are good options for hungry lunch-goers. But if customers want to try something new, it is unlikely they will run out of alternatives. As Weber proclaims to a customer in the video who expresses her distaste for his sandwich: “This is America, where you have options. You’ve got to participate!” It would be difficult to find a place where this kind of participation is easier than at Pappa Charlie’s. Its giant menu seems to encompass endless possibilities. And if none of the eclectic menu options tickle your fancy, there’s always the Politician to consider: where “ingredients change with your whim.”