In 1982, Nancy Bowers and her husband, Felice D’Elia, moved from New York to Florida and quickly established an Italian deli in a region that was sorely lacking in that department.
Thirty years later, “Mama” Bowers is still the proprietor of both and its sister shop, on opposite ends of U.S. 19 in Clearwater.
And despite the difficulties of running two businesses, she — and her shops — show no signs of slowing down.
“I’ve been in this business for 40 years. Sometimes it’s hard to believe I’ve been in business so long,” the always-affable Mama says.
“But people love our food, so they follow me around.”
Bowers, who was born in Salerno, Italy, admits she had no idea what kind of reception an Italian deli would get in central Florida in the early '80s.
But shortly after she and her husband opened Felice’s at the intersection of U.S. 19 and Curlew Road, business began to boom, thanks to the scarcity of delis in the area and the steady stream of Northerners who flock to the Gulf Coast.
“In those days, there was barely anything like this around here,” she recalls. "When they found out about us, especially the New Yorkers who lived here, they loved us.”
A few years later the couple moved Felice’s to its current location in the Northside Square Plaza just south of Curlew to accommodate the growing business. And after establishing A&N on the other end of town, they soon became fixtures in the community.
In fact, Bowers has become somewhat of a local celebrity.
News stations have visited her shops. Newspapers have chronicled her story. The current mayor of Clearwater and former Mayor of Tampa have stopped by and posed for pictures with Bowers and her family. And she was recently featured in a coffee table book about Italian-American success stories.
“When I can here from Italy, I had no idea this was going to happen. I thought I was going to open a little store,” she says with her ever-present smile.
With the recent retirement of her now ex-husband D’Elia, Bowers took over the day-to-day operations of Felice's as well as A&N, a task that would be difficult for even the most dedicated business owner.
But with a slew of family members helping to operate both shops and a stellar reputation for providing excellent food and terrific customer service, Bowers doesn’t see herself leaving the business anytime soon.
“I love the food and I love dealing with the people ... so I hope I can keep going."
"God willing — and I stay healthy — I’ll be able to do this forever.”
Address: 29263 U.S. Hwy 19 N. (Northside Square Plaza)
Hours: Mon - Sat, 9am - 6pm; Sun, 11am - 3pm