With upscale fillings, artisanal breads and ethnic influences, delis are making grab-and-go more fun and healthful.
In today’s time-pressured world, speed is of the essence. In noncommercial operations, that means that more and more customers are gravitating to pre-made items such as sandwiches, wraps and salads that allow them to grab a meal and go.
“Upscale grab-and-go items sold in our new coffee shop do really well,” says Linda Mack, foodservice director at the West Georgia Health System in LaGrange, Ga.
Her 300 customers a day “love tomato and mayo on white bread or BLTs with cheese, ‘homemade’ mayonnaise and sliced Vidalia onion.” The classics —ham and cheese or turkey on a croissant—are also popular and are the biggest sellers, along with roast beef with cheddar on marbled rye bread, says Mack. She has tried other deli items such as lox and salmon salad with less success.
At Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, healthy eating has become a major focus, according to Food Production Manager Al McPhee, whose department preps around 500 pre-packaged sandwiches a day. “We are aggressively promoting healthy choices with new options, product placement, signage and POS information, as well as nutritional labeling,” says McPhee.
Lorraine Allan, MGH’s assistant director for menus, food safety and food production, says chicken Caesar wraps top the list of customer favorites. “We do sliced turkey, roast beef and ham, tuna, egg or chicken salad sandwiches, and one that’s made with vegetables, hummus and tabouleh. A turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce and dressing also gets high ratings, along with a curried chicken sandwich and a daily low-carb wrap. Wraps are very popular—more of a signature item.”
Standard deli fare—salami, liverwurst and bologna, for instance—also sell well, with saltier items among the most popular, although corned beef isn’t a big seller.
The facility also added whole-grain bread, sourdough, bulkies, sub rolls and flavored wraps to offer more choices, but sometimes, Allan says, “customers will order the sandwich filling without the bread because they’re watching their calories. We labeled calories and nutritional information because we’ve seen more health consciousness.”
Testing a new idea: At Yale University in New Haven, Conn., Dining Services is rolling out a new approach called “smart deli.” The concept, unveiled at the National Association of College & University Food Services (NACUFS) conference this summer, presents a deconstructed sandwich of the day, says Jeff Rosen, assistant director, menu development.
“It can be turkey, basil pesto, sun-dried cranberries and arugula, and we let them put it together, perhaps with flavored mayonnaise instead of the usual ham, turkey and roast beef that sometimes just sits there,” Rosen says. “We use items to create our own specialty sandwiches.”
The smart deli was tested this year, and Rosen says students appreciate the use of dressing made without chemicals or high-fructose syrups and in-house made toppings.
Because many deli meats traditionally are high in nitrates and sodium, Yale is using ones that are not, he points out. “We also roast our own turkey breast with no saline pump. We roast our own roast beef, and we serve nitrate-free Niman Ranch hot dogs.”
Panini and more: Eric Schneider, executive chef for Sodexo at Pfizer’s, in Madison, N.J., says his client’s employees are into convenience but also seek healthy, fresh, quick food options. For that reason, one side of the Madison Deli Station offers create-your-own sandwiches. “Customers pick what they want from any combo of 50 different ingredients,” says Schneider. “On the other side, they can get hot-pressed sandwiches.” He has seen increases in both sales and participation rates this year of 15% to 20%.
The cafeteria, which serves around 850 employees, is expected to see an increase is its customer base this fall, to as many as 1,400. The deli, which has been upgraded and expanded several times, offers six hot specials a week on the panini press including eggplant Parmesan. Deli is the way to go, adds Schneider, who likes to set up the stations for maximum eye appeal.
Flatbread sandwiches are among the favorites at Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina, says Foodservice Director Vinnie Livoti. “Hot paninis are popular, and our 7,000 customers like artisan breads. We did a big push on multigrains with a great seven-grain bread. They like our Ovengold turkey, and we do a lot of flavored wraps—tomato, spinach and herb. The turkey is our No. 1 seller. People who care about their diets know that it’s natural with no preservatives.”
Middle Eastern flavor: At the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, Peter Fischbach, chef for Gourmet Dining LLC at this location, is adding kati rolls, which are Indian wraps made with hot meats such as kebabs or chicken tikka masala and topped with chutneys, yogurt sauces and a variety of different salads such as green papaya, radish or tomato and cucumber.
“Corned beef and pastrami are the norm [for deli], but we want to differentiate ourselves and we have a very large Middle Eastern student population. This helps to cater to them,” Fischbach notes.
At the New York Times cafeteria in Manhattan, Restaurant Associates’ foodservice director, Matt Wallace, offers premium pre-made sandwiches for people in a hurry but also does built-to-order sandwiches and paninis. Wallace says that the specialty sandwiches in the deli station move very fast. The buffalo chicken wrap has a big following and is a pre-made specialty item four out of five days a week.
At Bowdoin College, students have a lot to say about what new deli stations will offer.
Students at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, are likely to get favorites and maybe a taste of home when they visit the deli stations this year, thanks to an initiative that came from student feedback.
“The menu items that seem to grab the most attention are ones from recipes the students have come up with,” says Director of Dining Services Mary Lou Kennedy, whose department serves 21,000 meals a week to the college’s 1,700 students.
“Our meal usage is up over 80%,” Kennedy says, attributing that to the fact that “everything is fresh and organic. We have our own meat, our own garden for produce and a bake shop.”
The menus, she explains, are “largely influenced by the kids. They develop theme meal ideas, and we’ll do a whole menu around them.”
At Moulton Union Dining Hall, Chef David Crooker points out that the staff at the deli listened to student requests and comments and this year began naming sandwiches for students based on those interactions. It has become a way to engage the students and cater to their specific requests and interests.
For example, one student employee kept getting compliments for a particular panini. In response, the item was named for the student whose nickname is “OC” and is now known and labeled as Aaron’s OC Smoked Turkey, Bacon & Avocado Panini. Even the athletic department staff has weighed in, says Crooker, pointing to “Coach Boomer’s Roast Beef Panini.” Other favorites that received the names of their fans have been Max’s Curried Vegetables and Paul’s Famous Turkey Panini.
Moulton has a special of the day, an unadvertised vegan special and at least one flavor of hummus available. “Hummus is a big thing. We do display cooking with a variety of hummus or hummus-style items (without chickpeas). We’ll do black beans with chips or white beans with crostini.”
On the sandwich side, healthier options continue to grow in popularity, he says. While deli items can be high in sodium, Crooker makes his own chicken and turkey salads, which allows him to limit salt. “It’s a matter of training the staff.”
At Thorne Hall, Daran Poulin, production manager and head chef, also gets student input—one submitted a recipe for “candied sushi.” Thorne does more traditional comfort foods in the deli including chicken Parmesan sandwiches, meatball subs, and an assortment of paninis and salads.
The deli also offers an Under the Vegan Sun bar where students make their own sautés and s’mores.
One contractor has taken a deli concept and transformed it into a freestanding brand.
Sterling Services, a vending and foodservice management company with corporate dining clients in the Detroit metro area, finds itself in the rare position this year of receiving a positive break from the recession, thanks to commercial building landlords’ need for high-quality foodservice. The company’s Abe’s Deli brand, created originally by partners Joe Hessling, president of the foodservice division, and Corporate Executive Chef Bekim Pellumbi as a small stand-alone deli concept has come full circle today, Hessling says.
“We will assess the needs of a building and sometimes they call for an actual deli station. But since the recession, we’ve taken the Abe’s Deli brand and turned it into a restaurant within our overall foodservice program.
We expanded the menu at Abe’s Deli to add more breakfast choices and burgers. In the last six months we’ve opened three restaurants. They’re retail locations, but we still manage the space for the property owner or host company on a contract basis.
The restaurant draws more attention to the building and works very well. In Detroit, we have Abe’s Deli in the largest office tower downtown, the Comerica Bank building called One Detroit Center. It’s on the ground level and has become [a] popular restaurant. We handle all of Comerica’s foodservice, usually with small brands, but this spot was a ground-level site in the most recognizable corner location, so we [added] Abe’s Deli and now business just gets better and better.
Our newest Abe’s Deli opened recently in a similar situation and I’m sure we’ll be doing more and more.
It’s funny because Bekim and I created Abe’s Deli as a little deli and we used to be so envious of all the restaurants and delis around us in great locations that cost $200,000 to $300,000. Now those locations are being handed to us. It’s a real validation. When we began, we put a lot of care into what we did and we still do.
Most recently, our current arrangements are either a capped subsidy in low-volume locations or a zero rent/utility situation in locations where we feel comfortable with the population and location.
I had a family tradition of more than four generations in foodservice, and Bekim has more than 20 years’ experience in all stages of the culinary trade. Our original deli together took off and was known for its catering, which is still an important part of the business as a Sterling Services brand.
The deli sandwiches are very popular; they’re classic, but we put our own twist on them. Bekim’s expertise is really sauces and salad dressings that are made from scratch and incorporated into our menu. With our deli sandwiches, like the Reuben, we elaborate on the classics and put our own twist on them. We bottle Abe’s Asian Dressing, for example, and sell it, but we’ll use it in dishes such as our Asian chicken salad and as a sandwich dressing as well. It’s very popular as a dipping sauce for our turkey on rye.
Some of the twists we do are a play on the BLT with our guac recipe. Our suburban burger is a classic burger with a fried egg on top. We do what we call ‘quesadillit’ where you can take any of our classic deli items and have them grilled in quesadilla form. Our Reuben and barbecue chicken are the two most popular items.
We try to use our recipes to bring out the flavors to ordinary deli classics. We have a Vera Cruz sauce that we use on our Southwestern dishes and also red pepper mayo, basil mayo and several other dressings that round out the offerings.
We proof-bake all our breads and we serve the highest quality meats that we can get from our primary vendor. We specialize in freshly made artisan types of sandwiches.
That means that our people must have the skills to be able to make things from scratch and to create sauces.
All of our locations have online ordering, digital menu displays and self-checkout where possible to control labor or speed up checkout times. We’re working on a program now using the iPad for our QSR locations that we expect to have in beta testing by the end of the year.”