It’s Friday at Canevari’s Deli in Santa Rosa, which means it’s Italian cheesesteak day. Canevari's cheesesteak is a construction of gooey cheese, finely sliced beef and fresh peppers. It’s one of the best sandwiches in Santa Rosa and it's only available on Fridays.
Canevari’s offers another special on Fridays, something off the menu. A trio of ingredients not found behind the deli counter, rather they are found outside the venerable Italian eatery and go by the names of Asher Cairo, Chadwick Tatum and simply, O.G. Collectively, they’re the sign-spinning superstars strutting their stuff up and down Lewis Road and Mendocino Avenue.
Cairo has been spinning signs for years, "I used to be a dancing pickle and then I was a dancing cow."
For Cairo, spinning signs is more than just a fun way to earn some quick cash, it’s a way of life.
"What I do is a job and I’m passionate about it. Most people tell me, ‘you’re not going to be a sign spinner all your life,’ but if you enjoy what you do then why not take that chance," Cairo said. "I get applause and some tips, sometimes I get flashes."
Cairo has an affinity for music and dancing, two passions he utilizes to his benefit when sign spinning: "I can express myself and bring a smile to people’s faces. I usually do a spin or pretend like I’m walking to the store with a bag."
Cairo's choice of music when doing his job consists of "Cher, Madonna and pretty much anything '80s."
For Tatum, his musical choices are Michael Jackson on his CD player and Adele on his iPod, the latter serving as a backup when the former runs out of battery. Tatum's reasoning for spinning signs is simple, "I like being loud."
Living with Down syndrome limits a person's options when entering the workforce, but Tatum isn’t allowing the diagnosis to prevent him from earning a living.
"I do this for five hours a day, and four days a week I work at Amy’s Drive-Thru, cleaning the lobby and taking out the trash," he says
Tatum has career aspirations that go beyond spinning signs and taking out the trash. "I want to be a wine taster. Jiggling the glass around and slurping the wine, that’d be really cool," Tatum said.
O.G. is the veteran of the group, a recovering addict who will proudly tell you he has been sober for a year and 223 days, "I’m even off the mouthwash," he says.
O.G. has been spinning signs for over 20 years, "I started in like ‘93 or ‘94." He admits living as a sober sign-spinner isn’t easy, but it is rewarding.
The positivity hasn’t touched everyone. Canevari’s was the recipient of an angry tirade by one passerby who noticed O.G. on the street one day.
"We had someone call us and tell us: ‘this is 2017, you should not have a black man spinning signs, are you selling chicken and watermelon? You should have him do something worthwhile,'" said Canevari’s manager, Vincenzo Chambrone.
"Some people just don’t understand, they look at our sign-spinners and think we subject them to standing out in the heat for little pay, but they came to us because it’s something they love doing.”
The multi-generational delicatessen dates back to 1929, when Attilo Canevari opened for business. Lou Chambrone, the current owner of Canevari’s, whose heart is as full as his homemade ravioli, took the gamble of employing the unique personalities. "They are the only advertising I do," Chambrone said.