This story is part of Loved and Lost, a statewide media collaboration working to celebrate the life of every New Jersey resident who died of COVID-19. To learn more and submit a loved one's name to be profiled, visit lovedandlostnj.com.
Once the owner of Charlie’s Delicatessen in Westfield, John Laterra could cook anything, his daughter, Linda Butler, said. But his sandwiches were on another level.
“To this day, I can’t eat a sub because it’s not my father’s,” she said.
A first-generation American, Laterra’s parents immigrated from Sicily. They introduced him to the finest Italian ingredients and fueled his love of food. His father, Frank, opened the South Avenue deli that Laterra would run with his brother, Charlie, in the 1960s and 1970s.
For a time, Laterra worked nearly 18 hours a day, seven days a week, but Butler said she nonetheless remembers seeing him every Sunday. The family would gather in the back room of the deli to eat Sunday dinner. Later in his life, they would continue the tradition at Butler’s Jersey Shore home.
They sold the business decades ago. But Laterra’s love for the deli counter never faded. For years, he worked part time in a Foodtown deli department. He fed his miniature poodles thinly sliced roast beef.
Laterra also loved shopping for a homemade southern Italian dinner, though three hip injuries had made that an increasingly difficult task later in his life, Butler said.
Before running the deli, Laterra had a career selling steel. In his spare time, he hunted. Family pressure ultimately steered him toward fishing, Butler said, but he never learned to swim, which complicated things.
A Korean War veteran, Laterra had joined the military shortly after high school. He married Isabel, his wife of 62 years, at 21 on a military base in Germany. After returning home, they raised their family — two daughters he adoringly called “puppy” — in Scotch Plains. He retired in Fanwood and died on April 22 at age 87.
For his last five years, Laterra was active in his senior living community. He served as treasurer for the community council and regularly beat his college-educated grandson in checkers.
Laterra raised his voice just once — when some kids across the street threatened her while they were playing phone pranks, Butler remembered.
“He loved his family more than anything,” Butler said. “He was the nicest man I’ve ever met.”
This story originally appeared here on NorthJersey.com.
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