Dominic Marasco is no stranger to adversity.
“He’s defied all the odds his whole life,” said Marasco’s mother, Cindy Goffus. “They gave him a 10 percent chance of surviving. He had his last rites given to him five times before he was 4 months old.”
Marasco, 22, was born three months premature. He has autism and has worked hard to overcome life’s challenges ever since.
“We were told he would never walk or talk and he would be blind,” Goffus said.
But with a lot of hard work and help from friends, family members and countless speech and occupational therapists, Marasco has been able to succeed. He was mainstreamed in public school and graduated in the top third of his class at South Fayette High School. Although doctors thought he would never talk, Marasco now speaks German and uses sign language in addition to English.
Marasco also has built up a broad résumé. He has held positions at Mitchell’s Fish Market, N.Y. Deli, PetSmart, T.J. Maxx, the Marriott Hotel and with Meals on Wheels in the past several years.
But Marasco’s real passion in life has always been food. A list of his favorite shows – Rachael Ray, Martha Stewart, QED Cooks – emphasizes his passion.
“His dream throughout all of it – he enjoyed all of it – but he always wanted to have his own deli where he’d have a restaurant,” Goffus said. “So what we did is opened it on behalf of him.”
When Goffus retired recently after 30 years as a mental health and mental retardation coordinator, she decided to help her son make his dream come true.
“He’d like to live up to his capabilities,” Goffus said. “I knew he could do it. He just needed a chance.”
The family purchased a business on Campbell Drive in Independence Township in May and opened Dom’s Country Deli & General Store in early August.
“He deserves a chance, even if he has a disability. … Sure, he can’t do it all himself, but he deserves a chance to do it,” Goffus said.
The family’s plan for the deli is ambitious, to say the least. Right now, it serves as a delicatessen, kitchen and offers groceries and hardware supplies. In upcoming months, they hope to expand the business to include firearms, lottery tickets and six-pack beer sales.
Goffus said she eventually hopes to start a program that would offer job training and volunteer opportunities for others with mental and physical disabilities.
Goffus said the business plan was a throwback to an earlier type of market.
“We want it to eventually be like an old-time general store,” Goffus said, “where you can go to get a pound of lunch meat, a .30-06 (rifle), something to fix the toilet and some banana-nut bread.”
So far, Marasco has loved volunteering at the deli. He is there bright and early to help clean and open the shop’s doors at 9 a.m. Throughout the day, he helps with preparing food for the lunchtime rush, unloading deliveries, delivering lunches to local schools and businesses, along with whatever else he can do to make the business hum.
He also likes to personally greet every customer.
“My favorite thing’s when I greet everybody,” Marasco said. “I like to make new friends. I say, ‘Hello’ and ‘Have a nice day’” to everyone who stops into the shop.
Although Marasco’s love of food may have been the reason the family opened the deli, the relationships being built with the community may be the most rewarding part of the job.
The appreciation goes both ways. Cliff Moss is a pipeline inspector for Columbia Gas. He was part of a group of workers who have taken to stopping into the shop frequently when working in the area.
“We really enjoy Dom’s company,” Moss said. “He’s a very nice, easygoing guy. He’s very friendly. I have a friend who has autistic children, and I know what it’s like. So, it’s nice to stop in and see him.”