Sam Marrazzo stands in the produce section of his market in Ewing April 26, 2018. (Staff photo by Rob Anthes.)

It was about 12 years ago that on every sunny spring, summer and fall weekend, the smell of sizzling hot dogs and hamburgers cooking on the Marrazzo’s patio filled the air near Foxmoor Shopping Center. It also was about 12 years ago that the workers in the deli would always slip a slice of cheese to a little child grocery shopping with their parents. And it was 12 years ago that Sam Marrazzo announced his retirement and sold Marrazzo’s Thiftway in Robbinsville.

Take a quick look in the “Around Robbinsville” Facebook group, and it’s clear that many in town want Sam Marrazzo to come back. Foxmoor Shopping Center hasn’t had an anchor store since the Thriftway closed in November 2011, after being sold twice and—toward the end—shedding the Marrazzo name. With every Trader Joe’s suggestion on Facebook, comes a comment of “Bring back Marrazzo’s!”

So that begs the question: Where is Sam Marrazzo? And would he ever come back to Robbinsville?

“Well, I’m doing absolutely fine,” Marrazzo began. He continued, “My daughter used to run the Ewing store and she did a great job, but then she fell in love, got married and moved to D.C., which is a great thing…So I am back running the store with my management team.”

Now 70, he doesn’t mind running his Ewing store—which opened in 2000—and knew he could never 100 percent retire. He often heads down to Florida to enjoy time with his grandchildren, boating and the sunshine.

He opened the Robbinsville store after moving from Trenton in 1989.

“It was perfect to move here because my store coincided with the surge in housing,” he said. “The town was growing, and I blended in as one of the newcomers.”

Mr. Marrazzo, as many called him, was always in the store. He greeted every single customer, always asking how he could make your experience better and went out of his way to make the experience of shopping at his store like you were family. On Mother’s Day, he gave out flowers to women walking in the store, made special cakes for every single celebration and started a community weekend barbecue.

And what’s the story with the beloved 50-cent hamburgers? Well, Marrazzo originally didn’t think it would catch on.

“We started the 50-cent hamburgers just to let people know that we were making our own hamburgers, never thinking they would catch on like they did. And then we did them for 16 years.”

t was a usual sight to see a line form at 10 a.m. on a Saturday and Sunday morning and by 10:30 a.m., wrap around the entire building. Never once did Marrazzo raise the price.

“My managers told me I really needed to up the price, but I said, ‘No, no,’” he recalled. Within the last five years of the hamburgers on the patio, Marrazzo was losing hundreds of dollars in product sales a day because of the price.

“But guess what? I was right,” he said. “I was right to never change the price because it didn’t matter. What matters is that people still remember we did that for so many years. So tell me it wasn’t worth the investment?”

The tradition was such a big deal that in June 2008, when Marty and Rebecca Reeser brought back the burgers roughly two years after taking over the Robbinsville market from Marrazzo, it warranted a story in the second-ever issue of the Robbinsville Advance. The Reesers didn’t have the moxie to match Marrazzo’s prices, though, instead giving away free burgers with a minimum purchase at the store.

Marrazzo also frequently gave back to the community through donating to the schools. He often also gave Robbinsville teenagers their first jobs.

Customers of the Robbinsville store still recognize him.

“People until this day come up to me—especially when we’re headed to Florida,” he said. “We get accolades from the Robbinsville store still and we are so honored. My wife and I and my family are so honored to still have such an impact on the community.”

Although he would love to return to Robbinsville, it just isn’t feasible at this moment in time.

“I love Robbinsville and all of Mercer County,” he said. “They’ve been so good to us. We started in 1947—just two weeks after I was born…The Marrazzo family is honestly and sincerely thankful for every one of our customers.”