Woman reopens family deli in Merthyr nearly 40 years after her grandparents

  • Video report by ITV Wales journalist Issa Farfour

Johnsons’ Delicatessen in Merthyr Tydfil has reopened its doors as the granddaughter of the original owners brings it back to life. 

Founded by Jim and Joan Johnson in 1982, Johnsons' Delicatessen was once a haven of Italian meat, cheese and sweet-treats - operating for more than a decade. 

Now, nearly 40 years later, the much-loved local venue has reopened its doors but this time by another member of the family. 

The deli reopened its doors at the beginning of December this year.

Jessica Howells, the granddaughter of the original owners Jim and Joan, is the Delicatessen’s new owner. 

Having "grown up" on the original shop floor, it was no surprise that Jessica wanted to follow her grandparents’ footsteps. 

“Doing this just felt natural," she told ITV Wales. 

“I’ve been surrounded by good food my entire life and spoiled by the fact my grandmother is an incredible cook and taught by her as well. So the opportunity when this arose was just something I couldn’t pass up.”

And she is not the only one pleased to see the business flourish within the family. Her grandparents, the original owners of Johnsons’ Delicatessen are also “incredibly proud”, according to Jessica. 

“I think they’re nervous for me, because they know how much hard work it takes to keep it going and put it together,” she said. 

“The business they ran was such a big part of our family, I grew up in the shop and in the kitchen with my grandmother.”

The deli offers a range of snacks, all inspired by the original shop.

The Italian-style deli was inspired by the delicatessens of northern Italy, which Jim Johnson, Jessica’s grandfather, discovered during a cycling tour in 1954. 

In 1982, after being made redundant, he took the plunge and opened Johnsons’ Delicatessen with his wife Joan. 

The deli grew in popularity, and to this day, many share their stories of Jim and Joan Johnson’s Delicatessen. 

“People have many fond memories of my grandparents’ shop still,” says Jessica. 

“One of the lovely things about reopening it is people are coming in to visit me and I’m getting a lot of the stories told again, which is really heartwarming.’’

The new deli offers a range of tasty treats, all inspired by the original shop, ranging from meats and cheese to coffee. 

Its grand opening at the beginning of December was 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. 

It was also given additional funding from the Targeted Regeneration Investment programme (TRI) from Welsh Government.

Johnsons' Delicatessen is the latest in a long line of businesses to benefit from the Council's Meanwhile Scheme in 2021

Owner Jessica Howells said the funding from the Council and expert advice from her grandfather had really turned her dream “into a reality.” 

Speaking as Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Transformation and Commercialisation, Cllr Geraint Thomas, said: "As we stride towards the end of 2021 and look ahead to a brighter 2022, 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 in a long line of businesses 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."