Whoo Deli wows Rice students

Published in FSD Update

Traditionally, Rice University, in Houston, has contracted out retail spaces to local restaurateurs. That includes an Asian restaurant, a Mediterranean grill and a convenience store, all operated by outside entities, according to Executive Chef Johnny Curet. Recently, however, the department made a successful foray into operating its own retail units.

“Our vice president of administration had been wanting us to become more involved with retail, and so we decided to come up with the Whoo Deli,” Curet says.

Whoo Deli, located in the Rice Student Center, is generating as much as $1,000 in revenue per day. The deli sells a variety of customizable sandwiches, along with a number of sides, and offers a rotating list of hot sandwiches of the day.

“We had a deli in our student center that had closed, and that left a gap” Curet says. The name is a play on the Rice University mascot, an owl. Curet’s team also has created a special salt-free blend it calls Owl Spice, which is splashed on the deli’s freshly made potato chips.

Customers who want a made-to-order cold sandwich have the choice of 12 types of bread, everything from 12-grain and marble rye sliced breads to croissants, kaiser rolls, focaccia bread and tortillas for wraps. Protein choices include sliced meats, chicken and tuna salads, marinated grilled vegetables and tofu, and spreads include chipotle, pesto and sriracha mayo, Creole mustard, herb ranch dressing and hummus.

But toppings are the big draw, Curet says. In addition to several cheeses, these range from banana peppers and olives to red cabbage and red onions.

“We really wanted to have a lot of toppings, for customers who use more fresh vegetables on their sandwiches,” Curet says. “We’ve also got some interesting sides, like a cilantro lime slaw that doesn’t rely on a heavy mayo base.”

A daily soup rounds out the list of sides on the menu.

There are three pricing options. Customers can order either a whole sandwich and one side, or a half sandwich and two sides, for $5.95. Or they can order the hot sandwich of the day and one side for $6.50. The current rotating list of hot sandwiches includes California Chicken, Italian Sub, Turkey Gobbler, Vermont Devonshire and Cuban. There is also a grilled margherita sandwich—grilled vegetables, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese—offered every day. A meatball sub and a muffaletta also make an occasional appearance, and several more items are being developed, including a Texas smoked beef, pulled pork or chicken sandwich with a Shiner Bock barbecue sauce.

Curet notes that the deli has been so successful financially that dining services plans on taking over another retail space in June and developing a new concept.