Paul Delphia chuckled good-naturedly at the question.
Paul Delphia chuckled good-naturedly at the question.
“I did not go to auction school because I could talk fast,” he said.
But Delphia did go to auction school. And he sure can talk fast when the bidding begins.
Prior to the start of a recent auction held at the Haimerl Center on Morse Road, Delphia addressed potential buyers over a portable public address system. As the bidders-to-be poked through items from a defunct steakhouse and a failed bar in the Arena District, the auctioneer calmly told them that things would start outside and then move indoors.
Then he started the bidding, and his words became the aural equivalent of a blur.
Delphia, 53, a Clintonville resident whose various auction enterprises are based out of offices on Roche Drive in the Northland area, has been an auctioneer since attending the Missouri Auction School in 1987. Over the span of those nearly 25 years, he has come to be known, in central Ohio and around the state, as a specialist in helping dispose of the equipment — from pizza ovens and industrial refrigerators to food processors and slicers to plates, forks and knives — left behind when a restaurant goes out of business.
“Everybody wants to be in the restaurant business and half of them fail right away,” Delphia said.
“I think oftentimes people think they have a great recipe and with that recipe they can have a great business,” commented Jarrod Clabaugh, director of communications for the 2,400-member Ohio Restaurant Association. “There’s not enough planning done prior to launching a business or they’re in a bad location. Sometimes they don’t ask that question about why the location is empty.
“Obviously, anyone who launches a small business, particularly in the restaurant industry, for a lot of these people it’s their life’s dream.”
“Often it’s the salvage from a failed dream,” Delphia said. “It’s a really tough industry, apparently. But that’s not the only case. Sometimes it’s a bittersweet or a happy situation. A lot of what I’ve done, the business has shut down happily.”
Delphia specifically mentioned the old Village Junction, restaurant owner Jon Ford’s establishment at 780 S. High St.
In 1995, Ford lost the lease on the building where his popular eatery had been located for 18 years because the property owner tripled the rent.
“There was nothing wrong with his business,” Delphia said. “Someone else just wanted his site.
“Sometimes somebody thinks there’s a higher or better use for the site.”
Delphia mentioned several others in this vein — Schmidt’s in Upper Arlington and DaVinci’s on Henderson Road — where development forced relocation or closure, but admitted that by and large he’s dealing with people on one of the worst days of their lives.
“I have to try to be sensitive to a seller who is not at a happy point, but usually halfway through the auction, they’re pretty happy and relaxed,” he said. “It is enjoyable work to give satisfaction to the seller and facilitate good purchases for the buyer.”
“I think there’s definitely something to be said for working with someone like Paul, when not only the buyer but also the seller knows they’re getting a good product,” the Ohio Restaurant Association’s Clabaugh said. “It’s not a fly-by-night operation that leaves them holding equipment that’s not worthwhile and cost them thousands.”
Paul Delphia was born in North Dakota, but his family moved to Columbus when he was 3 years old. His father was a professor at Ohio State University. After graduating from Whetstone High School, Delphia enrolled at OSU, where he initially majored in business before switching to social science.
Then he worked in the Oriental rug business for 13 years.
“That’s why I became an auctioneer so that I could sell rugs,” Delphia said. “I think most people go into auctioneering because they have some particular interest, whether it’s cars or antiques or, in my case, rugs.”
Upon arriving at the Missouri Auction School, which was founded in 1905 and bills itself online as the “oldest and largest auction school in the world,” Delphia was advised that real estate was a better bet for making money, and also that some people do quite well selling restaurant equipment.
Upon returning to Columbus, Delphia heeded the advice he’d been given and got a real estate license, working for a firm for three or four years until he could obtain his broker’s license.
In order to become a licensed auctioneer, an apprenticeship was required, and Delphia did his with the late Jack Smith, whose son, also named Jack, still owns Smith’s Restaurant and Deli on North High Street.
While apprenticing with Smith, Delphia participated in an auction of the equipment of “one little tiny restaurant” and was also involved in disposing of items left behind when a West Broad Street pizza place went bankrupt.
When Ohio law changed in 1993 to permit auctioneers to incorporate under fictitious names with no fixed address — previously they were required to operate as auction houses of out a specific location — Delphia got licensed as Restaurant Auction Specialist of Ohio, and the name began to attract customers.
Delphia has done between 12 and 15 restaurant auctions a year ever since, mostly in central Ohio but also Dayton, Cleveland and Cincinnati.
He said that he’s not the only auctioneer with that specialty “but I by far get the dominant share of the market.”
Delphia also said that he’s been doing restaurant auctions for so long, he’s auctioned off the exact same piece of equipment as many as three times on more than 17 occasions.
“The auctioneers who think that their job is to make money for themselves don’t do well,” Delphia said. “You have to function as the agent for the seller. That’s been my attitude, and it’s kept people happy in what’s not always a happy situation. I’ve kind of put the sellers first.
“So I’m shouting at the buyers and trying to extract the most that I can while being polite.”
By the same token, bidders who feel they never get bargains from an auctioneer won’t stay bidders for long.
“If you’re not fair to the buyers, then they won’t come back, and you need them, too,” Delphia said.
Obtaining equipment from a restaurant that went under makes sense for those who feel they have a concept that can make a go of it on a couple of fronts, the auctioneer said. First, the equipment is built to last and second, brand-new is much, much more costly.
“It can be 15 years old and made to work great,” Delphia said. “It’s reusable. There’s a good secondhand market for it. The price for new is very high, so especially now a lot of buyers are seeking good used equipment because they can pay 20 percent or such of the new value.”
The Internet is affecting practically every aspect of life these days, and auctioneering is no exception.
“Like in everything, things are changing, and there’s a lot of Internet auction activity,” Delphia said.
He’s currently promoting a large coffee roaster that had been in the Scottie McBean location in Old Beechwold and items from a defunct restaurant in Easton online-only. Next up is the online auction of a mothballed water treatment plant in Sunbury.
“The food service niche is what I’m most known for,” he said.