Family-owned delicatessen returns to Merthyr Tydfil town centre 40 years after it was founded
Anthony Lewis, local democracy reporter
A family-owned deli is re-opening its doors in Merthyr Tydfil town centre 40 years after it was founded.
Johnsons’ Delicatessen, founded by Jim and Joan Johnson in 1982, has reopened thanks to the their granddaughter Jessica Howells who grew up on the original shop floor.
Back in the day it sold Italian meat, cheese and sweet-treats in Merthyr Tydfil for more than a decade.
Having re-opened in December, its return has been made possible by an investment from Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council and its Meanwhile scheme which supports new enterprises to open in vacant town centre buildings.
Other funding was also received from the Targeted Regeneration Investment programme (TRI) from Welsh Government.
The deli offers a range of ready-to-eat foods from Italian-style meats and cheese to coffee, pastries, hot meals and freshly baked bread, all inspired by the offering of the original shop.
The deli will also host a series of events for food-lovers, including everything from indulgent sample evenings to foodie masterclasses which began with a coffee tasting and barista tutorial led by Big Dog Coffee from Ebbw Vale on December.
All ingredients and food on offer at the deli have been locally sourced — with coffee by the aforementioned Big Dog Coffee, cheeses from Caws Cenarth, eggs from Trecastle Eggs in Brecon and freshly baked bread from artisan baker, Alex Gooch.
The original deli was inspired by the delicatessens of northern Italy, which Jim Johnson discovered during a European cycling tour in 1954.
After being made redundant later in life, Mr Johnson decided to take the plunge on a new business — opening the original Johnsons’ Deli in 1982, with his wife, Joan, as the head chef.
The deli and its Italian-style offering quickly grew in popularity possibly helped by the large numbers of people with Italian origins living in Merthyr Tydfil and the wider Valleys.
With hundreds of customers served to date, it’s hoped that the same sense of excitement will be enjoyed at the new Johnsons’ Delicatessen.
The owner, Jessica Howells, said: “The original Johnsons’ Deli is such an important part of my family’s history — and I like to think that it’s an important part of Merthyr’s history too.
“Some of my earliest memories were made at my grandparents’ shop and I love the idea that my 3-year-old son will enjoy a similar experience.
“My main aspiration with the deli is to offer high-quality produce for local people to enjoy, all while supporting local suppliers and helping to further ignite a sense of community in the town centre.
“With thanks to funding from the council and expert advice from my grandfather, this dream is slowly turning into a reality and I’m so excited to see what the future holds.
“From the bottom of my heart, I’d like to thank the people of Merthyr Tydfil for their support so far — I can’t wait to welcome you all for a coffee and a Welsh cake very soon.”
Council cabinet member Councillor Geraint Thomas, said “it’s wonderful to see yet another business opening in Merthyr Tydfil — especially one linked so intrinsically to the history of the town.
“I’m sure that Jessica and the team will be warmly welcomed by those who do and don’t remember the original deli, with thanks to the town’s thriving foodie population.”
“Johnsons’ Delicatessen is the latest business to benefit from the council’s Meanwhile Scheme in 2021 — and I’m thrilled to say that there’s even more in store for the town centre in 2022.
“It’s all part of the council’s wider masterplan for the town — which aims to transform Merthyr Tydfil into the tourism capital of the Valleys by 2035.”