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End of an era: After 37 years of running Bellini’s, family says goodbye as new owner takes over DeLand eatery

Family — Scott Groth, his daughters Christine McDermott and Jennifer Evans, their husbands and children meet July 29 for one last family dinner together at Bellini’s Deli and Italian Restaurant in Downtown DeLand. New owners took over at the restaurant July 31. From left are Scott and Christine McDermott, Haley Evans, McKenzie Wood, Brooke Evans, Jacob Evans, Dominick McDermott, Nikki McDermott, Madison Evans, Jen and Doug Evans, and Scott Groth. 

Family — Scott Groth, his daughters Christine McDermott and Jennifer Evans, their husbands and children meet July 29 for one last family dinner together at Bellini’s Deli and Italian Restaurant in Downtown DeLand. New owners took over at the restaurant July 31. From left are Scott and Christine McDermott, Haley Evans, McKenzie Wood, Brooke Evans, Jacob Evans, Dominick McDermott, Nikki McDermott, Madison Evans, Jen and Doug Evans, and Scott Groth. 

PHOTO COURTESY CHRISTINE MCDERMOTT

Homecoming, first dates, marriage proposals, family and friend get-togethers, first outings with new babies, anniversaries, lunch breaks and dinner out — the list of memorable occasions at a DeLand dining institution seems endless.

When word got out that Bellini’s Deli and Italian Restaurant would soon be under new ownership, there were tears.

And, because the restaurant will remain open, there was relief.

The change of ownership was official July 31.

So many DeLand-area residents grew up (and inevitably grew older) with Scott Groth ever-present at the meat slicer in his Downtown DeLand restaurant. His smile of recognition and genuinely caring inquiries about patrons and their families were reliable and always uplifting.

So many of us passed the years handing what always seemed a tiny amount of money for each delicious meal across the counter to Scott’s wife, Theresa Groth. Her warm, ready smile and hearty, contagious laughter sent folks on their way with full hearts to accompany their full bellies.

The couple’s children were regularly at the restaurant before they could reach the counter. During the early years, Theresa stayed home with the three little ones.

“She would bring them to see me because I was always working,” Scott Groth said. “They would sleep on the aprons under the counter.”

All too soon they towered over it, and the couple’s daughters began working alongside their parents.

An entire community mourned Oct. 26, 2012, when Theresa Groth lost a valiant battle with cancer. It was our turn to worry about Scott.

Elaine Dobson Lerner worked at Bellini’s in the early 1980s while attending Stetson University. Now an Orlando-based corporate attorney, she represented her former boss and longtime friend, in the sale of his business.

Groth has had some health concerns; a recent scare prompted his doctor to prescribe retirement, he said.

Three adult children, seven grandchildren, a line of marinara (called Bellini’s Sauce) featuring Theresa Groth’s picture on the label — along with a propensity for helping the less fortunate — ensure Scott Groth will have plenty to do even without his daily shifts at Bellini’s.

As he prepares for departure — his last day working there will be Saturday, Aug. 12 — he already misses the people.

Bellini’s opened in 1976 in DeBary.

The original owners were Groth’s mother, Florence, and her late husband, Nick Bellini.

The younger Groth generation moved to the area and Bellini’s moved to Rich Avenue in Downtown DeLand in 1979.

Scott began what would be a 37-year journey of 14-hour days — and nights — on his feet, slicing cold cuts and overseeing operations, while never missing a chance to connect with customers.

Lerner said early on, the Bellinis and Groths taught her the high value of honesty, integrity and attention to detail, all of which continue to serve her in her profession.

She introduced her future husband, Lee Lerner, to Bellini’s. Lee Lerner worked at and played softball for the old DeLand Sun News, and he quickly became part of the Bellini’s family, too.

Orange City Council Member Jeff Allebach recalled the time when he was campaigning for election to the Volusia County Council.

It was in 1998 at a meet-and-greet at Pioneer Park across the street from Bellini’s.

Allebach and his campaign manager were proverbially shaking hands and kissing babies. Groth was in his usual spot at the slicer, watching the goings-on outside.

“Scott sent out pizzas to me and Matt Allgood, just to be nice,” Allebach recalled.

There are countless similar stories of Groth’s compassion and generosity toward community members. Many will remember the Thanksgiving dinners at Bellini’s, free and open to all.

“You just work all these years,” Groth said. “You just do the best you can, and you don’t realize the impact. … We’ve gotten so close to so many people.”

First, he will rest.

Then, he said, “I will focus on family, faith and the Bellini's Sauce Co.”

The sauce that honors his beloved Theresa and their developmentally disabled son, Jon Glenn, also serves others.

A portion of the money from each jar sold is donated, through the Jon Glenn Foundation, to families of developmentally disabled people.

It pays for wheelchairs, camp adventures and other goods and services. Groth wants to ease the way for others who went through what he and Theresa experienced.

“Starting out, we had no money, and there were no services to get him help,” Groth said.

While it’s impossible for him to identify each gift he’s received behind that counter, Groth summed it up as best he knows how.

“People, from one spectrum to another,” he said, “from working people to people in Congress, ballplayers who went to Stetson and went on to the Major League, the cross section of people, it’s been a blessing.”

He continued, “For me and Theresa to meet people, help people, to do things we wouldn’t have been able to if the business hadn’t been as successful as it was. … How many people I’ve been able to lead to Christ and pray with. If you can impact somebody’s life and change it, it’s worth all the hours, all the work.”

It has delighted him to see several former employees start their own restaurants.

And because mothers always worry about their children, Florence Bellini, who still lives in DeLand and enjoys weekly Sunday dinners with her son and grandson, “is ecstatic” over the sale, Groth said.

“She saw how hard I worked,” he added, smiling.

Likewise, he worries about his own children and their spouses.

No matter what else they had going on, Christine and Scott McDermott and Jennifer and Doug Evans have been a tremendous help with the business, Groth said.

“They need a break, too,” he said.

But leaving is hard for the children, too.

“Our customers have been so good to us, so good to our family. You’re gonna get off your feet. You’re gonna get a break. But walking away from all of that, that’s the sad part,” daughter Christine Groth McDermott said.

At the outset of negotiations, Groth advised the new owners simply: “Don’t change anything. This works.”

And from DeLand and beyond, an appreciative chorus echoed: Amen.

- Erika Webb, erika@beacononlinenews.com


“I was just there last week, eating the same exact sub I've eaten since high school. I remember one time years ago, before they took debit cards. I went in to pick up a sub and forgot they only took cash. I didn't have cash, said I'd go get some and come back. They said no just pay the next time you come by. My friends and I always used Bellini's as a comforting thing. I broke my foot and my friend said: ‘I'll get you some Bellini's.’ My friend was in the hospital; I said: ‘I'll go get you some Bellini's.’ It just made everything right in the world.”

— Tracie Tindal Branton, Daytona Beach

 

“Always been one of the ‘go to’ places. I started going in 1982 … always good food … good people … good times!”

— Melissa Stone, Lake Helen

 

“Love, Love, Love this place!! Started going there when Scott's father owned it. They have always had the BEST pepperoni and provolone subs (my FAVE, and order it almost every time!). Every time I go back ‘home’ to DeLand, I MUST eat there! Many mixed emotions about this news. Best wishes to Scott and family!”

— Brenda Hensley Greene, Highlands, North Carolina

 

“Got my first speeding ticket last day of school senior year trying to beat everyone to Bellini's. My dad said, ‘Sure hope that sandwich was good.’”

— Lori Siler Braddock, Seville

“My first business meeting was there with my uncle, Rick Bowes, before he was killed. That's where I learned how to handle working in a ‘man’s’ line of work and not get walked all over. I was in high school.”

— Christine Harvey, Ormond Beach

 

“It would take an act of Congress to get my father to go to a restaurant — except Bellini's — we said Bellini's, and Dad said, ‘Let's go!’”

— David Scott, Tavares

 

“I’ve had a lot of education, but the best education I’ve ever gotten was at Bellini’s.”

— Scott Groth’s attorney, longtime friend and fellow Yankees fan Elaine Dobson Lerner, Lake Mary

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