The first thing that people notice about Bustolini’s Deli owner, Bob Backstrom, is his explosive laugh. It’s actually more of a cackle, approximately four times as loud as your average person’s preferred volume for expressing amusement. One of my favorite descriptions of Bob’s laugh was presented within a stand-up comedy bit where local comic, Steve Swim, darkly compared it to that of “a pedophile who just got his first substitute teaching gig at an elementary school.” I’m pretty sure I laughed even louder than Bob that night.

Since Mr. Backstrom took over Bustolini’s Deli 7 years ago, he’s become somewhat of a local celebrity in our town. Bob greeted his patrons with the warmth and genuine affability characteristic of a locally owned business, which made everyone happy to stop by the deli and see him. Not to mention his sub sandwiches were the tastiest in town. Additionally, he’s contributed greatly to local music as a promoter and even given hope to the idea that a stand-up comedy scene could sustain itself in Chico. Unfortunately, all Bob’s work has come to an end with the closing of Bustolini’s, and soon he will embark on a journey for greener pastures in South America.

The first thing I asked Bob was simply, “What happened?”

His explanation was simple, “I ran it for 4 years and it was good in the beginning, but the economy went to shit and I noticed a drop off. Simultaneously I got a little burnt out of working 80 to 90 hours a week and not making any money.”

When business first started to get bad, Bob started bringing more attention to his business by getting involved in local music. While managing several local bands, he discovered a niche with event coordination and promotion. Eventually Bob’s efforts escalated him to collaborating with venues larger than his establishment such as Lost On Main. Over time he even built a strong enough rapport with local and regional bands to host his first music festival, “Chico Legends.” His work as a promoter never brought in a ton of money, but instead he saw it as an opportunity for advertising.

Bob explained, “The shows were called ‘Bustolini’s Presents’ and I think I did a good enough job where now a lot of people are coming out and can see the ‘Bustolini’s Presents’ name and be like, ‘Oh I don’t care what band it is, I’m gonna go.’”

Sadly, even the extra business Bob was directing towards the deli as a music promoter wasn’t enough to balance the factors working against him. Sales were always slowest in the summer and with PG&E rates shooting through the roof he was forced to shut down for several weeks at a time. Bob’s busiest season instead came in the winter when he offered his popular soup recipes.

“The thing that saved us a lot of the time were soups in the wintertime. We have the best soups in town,” Bob insisted. “As soon as we closed I started looking for a small local business to take over my soup recipes and I still kind of am…I feel like it would be good for their business.”

Fortunately, Bob has a backup plan. He’s headed to Ecuador.

“My big goals are to finish my novel and help my friend be successful down there. He runs a 16-room hotel with a tiny restaurant and bar.” Backstrom continued, “Ideally I would be head chef/bartender. The reality of that I’m not sure yet.”

Bob’s big personality will be missed and he’ll be remembered by many as one of the hardest working entertainment promoters in town. In true Bob fashion he’ll be going out with a bang, hosting one last comedy show at the Chico Women’s Club appropriately titled, “Bob’s Last Laugh.” The comedy show will feature performances by both local and regional talent including the cackling sub slinger himself.

“I’m doing three sets and then like five or six comics who’ve done my shows and done well will perform including Steve Swim. If I didn’t give him time he’d probably murder me. The headliner is Gary Anderson from San Francisco, a really funny guy. He was probably my favorite headliner that I ever had.”

Bob’s Last Laugh will feature performances by several local and regional comedians. The event begins at 7:30PM at the Chico Women’s Club on Friday, January 11th. Tickets are available in advance at Empire Coffee for $10 or $15 at the door. Come on down and laugh one last time with Bob.

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Nolan Ford grew up in Chico, California with great respect and admiration for Synthesis and its mission to provide an alternative voice on matters of music, art, and life in Chico. In addition to editing the paper and managing its musical content, Nolan performs with various bands around town including Perpetual Drifters, The Rugs, Pat Hull, and acoustic duo, Emma & Nolan.