BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — Tastebuds, the neighborhood sandwich shop with an everybody-knows-your name atmosphere, is closing today after 27 years.
Owner Jan Pellegrini said she has sold the business to a woman from North Carolina who will continue to run it as a sandwich shop under a new name, Sweet Seed.
Pellegrini wrote the news of the closing in white chalk on a blackboard in the window of the Hale Street store on Wednesday, and word spread through her legion of loyal customers like the aroma from one of her gourmet wraps.
“One of our employees came back from here yesterday and said, ‘Jan’s selling the business. You got to go down there,’” said Kevin Kavanaugh, who’s been a customer for six years. “It’s kind of like the end of an era.”
Pellegrini said she had been trying to sell the business for about a year. She has worked six days a week without a vacation for years and felt that now was the time.
“Every day that you open the doors when you own your own business, it’s a miracle,” she said. “The last few years, it’s harder and harder to stay afloat.”
Pellegrini, a 60-year-old Peabody native, opened the shop in 1986 as a second career after working for a decade at GTE Sylvania. She graduated from culinary school at Essex Aggie and worked three jobs to buy what had been a cheese shop at 151 Hale St. in the Cove neighborhood.
Tastebuds was one of the first sandwich shops around to start making wraps. Pellegrini named them after Beverly landmarks like Lynch Park, West Beach and Prides Crossing.
Retired teacher Betsy Desmond said she and other teachers would set aside Friday as the day they would all order sandwiches from Tastebuds. She said Pellegrini and her staff have a way of folding the wrap that makes it easy to eat.
“I bet downtown Beverly is very happy, saying, ‘We don’t have the competition anymore,’” Desmond said.
Tastebuds was more than sandwiches, however. Pellegrini knows most of her customers by name, not to mention their dogs. She was famous for walking outside to a customer’s car to give their dog a piece of turkey.
Since the news of the closing broke, customers have been pouring in to say goodbye.
“It’s been all cards and flowers and hugs and kisses,” said Cheryl Scott, who works alongside her sister, Laura Glidden, making sandwiches in the Tastebuds kitchen. Scott and Glidden will remain under the new owner.
Pellegrini said it’s the relationships with her customers that she’ll miss the most. One woman has saved every Tastebuds menu from the beginning and comes in asking for sandwiches from 1987.
When Pellegrini was sick last week, a neighborhood boy gave her a handmade card that read, “Hope you feel better soon. From Patrick and the gang. Jan is the best sandwich creator ever.”
“Every day, I couldn’t wait to get in here, and the reason why is the customers that open that door every day,” she said. “No matter how much I’ve ever given, I’ve gotten so much more back that it’s overwhelming. It’s hard to accept all the love that’s come my way. That’s hard to give up.”
Pellegrini is not retiring. She recently got her real estate license and also plans to volunteer to teach kids and senior citizens how to cook.
Pellegrini said communities need businesses like Tastebuds, where the person behind the counter is a familiar face. A senior citizen who recently lost his wife and lives alone, for example, could come in for a cup of coffee and know that somebody would take the time to ask about his day.
“It keeps the community alive,” she said.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.