Life Lessons From a Gas Station: What Working in the Family Business Taught Me About Law

By the time I was a teenager, I was well-versed in two important things in life: how to deliver good news and how to deliver bad news. The good news was easy to give. Simply start the conversation with, “It’s not as bad as we thought.” The bad news, on the other hand, is tricky. No one wants to deliver bad news, but I learned early on that it’s better to just be direct and quick and immediately follow up with possible solutions or a new plan of attack.

I knew what I had learned at a young age was important, but in the grand scheme of things, I look back and realize that I wasn’t just learning how to deliver the news; I was learning how to treat people with respect, to ask real questions that matter, and to listen. These are not lessons that I learned in school. No, these were the life lessons that I learned from watching my mother and father run the family business. This part of my education began at a very early age, probably around 6 years old. I was learning to be in the people business — just like my parents. I wasn’t in an office, my classroom was the family’s Sunoco Gas Station in Hillside, New Jersey.

When I was young, there was nothing I wanted to do more than work at the gas station (that’s me cleaning tools 32 years ago in the picture on the left). Between my grandfather (pictured above on the right) and my dad, they owned the gas station for over 50 years. I learned many life lessons, in addition to getting to work on cars.

My responsibilities started small. New Jersey has full-service gas stations, so I started out pumping gas for customers. Over the years, my responsibilities increased to tuneups and brake jobs. I spent a lot of winter days outside changing flat tires. As I grew up, I became my dad’s, right-hand man. I would watch him deliver good news and bad news. People enjoyed the good news and disliked the bad. My dad always delivered the news in a way that people understood — they trusted him.

When I was 17, my dad sold the Sunoco, and the Dellutris moved to Florida, which put an end to my mechanical career. But looking back, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. There was a human element to the work I did every day. And it’s those gas station lessons that prepared me for the human element of working in law.

In my work today, people come to me when they are scared and vulnerable. When I meet them, they’re looking for legal guidance and emotional comfort in a time of loss. So it becomes my job to be compassionate and to understand where they’re coming from. As a father myself, I hope to pass on such life lessons to my 15-year-old daughter, Alyssa, and my 11-year-old son, Nicholas.

Alyssa decided at a very early age that she wanted to be a doctor. I think that’s wonderful, and I couldn’t be prouder. Nicholas, on the other hand, is like me. He enjoys coming to work with his mother and me at the office. He greets our clients and wears a nametag, and he’s constantly telling me ways I can be better or more efficient. He tries to answer the phone, but that’s where I have to draw the line. People think it’s great that he helps out. Nicholas is going to give me a run for my money, which is probably how my father felt! But that’s okay with me. I can only hope that one day, he says the greatest life lessons he learned were at his dad’s law office.