With $1,500 from a friend, Bridgeport Deli owner will feed neighbors Easter morning

Photo of Brian Lockhart
Owners Amal Johnston, left, and her daughter Dalia Ghossaini prepare breakfast sandwiches for the morning rush at Brooklawn Grocery & Deli, in Bridgeport, Conn. March 31, 2021. On Easter, the deli will be serving $1,500 worth of free breakfast sandwiches to whomever shows up.

Owners Amal Johnston, left, and her daughter Dalia Ghossaini prepare breakfast sandwiches for the morning rush at Brooklawn Grocery & Deli, in Bridgeport, Conn. March 31, 2021. On Easter, the deli will be serving $1,500 worth of free breakfast sandwiches to whomever shows up.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

BRIDGEPORT — This was supposed to be the year that Amal Johnston took Sundays off and operated her Brooklawn Grocery and Deli six days a week.

On Easter, however, the establishment will be open and Johnston, with daughter Dalia Ghossaini and other family, will be serving $1,500 worth of free egg and cheese, bacon, ham or sausage breakfast sandwiches to whomever shows up.

“Come here, no questions asked, here’s a sandwich, enjoy the rest of your day,” Ghossaini explained.

Brooklawn Grocery, a small storefront in a suburban section of the city, has gained a loyal following of area residents, police officers and firefighters who stop by for lunch.

Johnston founded it in the late 1980s after immigrating here from Lebanon, sold the business in 1996 and took her cooking skills elsewhere, then decided, when the space became available, to re-launch Brooklawn Grocery in 2015.

“I never forgot about my place,” Johnston recalled this week. “We put on the wall ‘Amal is back.’ It’s great.”

“They have good food. They’re very nice to you,” said Ann Owens, a prominent community leader who lives nearby. “They’re great cooks. Really good.”

Those who turn up for the Easter sandwich giveaway have Johnston’s and Ghossaini’s culinary skills to thank in part for the donation that resulted in their free food. When family friend Ralph Imbimbo, a long-time Bridgeport resident who, like Johnston, now lives in Newtown, was infected with COVID-19 last year along with his two sons, Johnston provided them plenty of homemade food and groceries.

Johnston said she feared for Imbimbo’s life, given he has some underlying health conditions: “It’s a miracle that he made it.”

That generosity proved infectious and resulted in Imbimbo offering them $1,500 to help others.

“She (Johnston) has been telling me for a while now how many people don’t have any money, they go to the store and can’t afford to buy food,” Imbimbo said. “I said, ‘Okay, I’m not hurting too bad, financially. Let me help out a little bit.’ And as long as she was willing to put in the time and go to work on Easter Sunday, I’d put up the money for sandwiches she gave away.”

“That’s the second best thing to give after love — food,” Johnston said. So while Sundays in 2021 were supposed to be a day of rest, this coming holiday Brooklawn Grocery will be open in the morning.

“The worst thing to feel is hungry, especially on a day where everybody’s eating,” Ghossaini said.

There has been no shortage of need in Bridgeport during the coronavirus pandemic. Area food pantries have reported being constantly busy, and Wade’s Dairy has been the site of regular weekend food distributions. In fact on Saturday, 7:45 a.m., volunteers will again be at Wade’s handing out around 1,260 boxes of food.

Ghossaini emphasized that she and her mother were not seeking publicity for themselves but just to get the word out: “It doesn’t help if people don’t know to come.”

Johnston said the COVID-19 crisis initially cost her about half of her usual business but things have greatly improved.

“Things are so much better. The bills are paid on time,” Johnston said.