In piloting new deli programs for their customers, two chefs—one from the East Coast, the other from the West Coast—have taken very different approaches. Both, however, have achieved the same objective: satisfying customers by offering them numerous choices, including heart healthy and vegetarian, at prices they can afford.
At Cisco Systems, a Bon Appetit Management account in San Jose, CA, executive chef Steve Castronovo is quite proud of his large, two-sided deli bar located in the center of the Lakeview Café. He estimates that 45% to 50% of his 1,200 lunchtime customers each day choose items from the deli bar, enjoying the freedom of building their sandwiches just the way they want them.
But there’s a healthy message here and Castronovo is pleased to report that more and more customers are getting it. “The interesting thing is how I set this bar up,” he says. “With Bon Appetit, one of the initiatives is providing healthy options. So one side contains low sodium and low fat cheeses, as well as vegan cheeses made from soy, roasted or smoked turkey, turkey pastrami, pre-cooked turkey bacon, etc. On the other side, there’s regular cheddar, Swiss, provolone, salami, capicola and mortadella. Signage on the sneeze guards on both sides of the bar directs guests to the healthy items.”
Artisan sellers: A wide range of breads, including panini rolls, bagels, whole wheat and sundried tomato tortillas for wraps are all easily accessible from a huge rack in front of the deli bar. “One of our local bread companies makes little artisan rolls and I’m always bringing in new ones,” he says. “We’ll put out a basket of 40 to 50 assorted rolls and artisan sliced breads, and those go first. Sourdough is the most popular of the sliced breads for sandwiches.”
“Our Mediterranean tuna salad goes really quickly, but it takes people several days to discover that it’s there,” Castronovo reports. “Basically, it’s made with olive oil, lemon juice, capers, red onion and cilantro. It’s on the healthier side since it’s made with ‘good’ fat. On the other side of the bar, there’s regular tuna and chicken salad. Now, our cook makes 15 pounds of Mediterranean tuna salad per week. She prepares a fresh batch two or three times a week since it’s on daily. Our low-fat curried chicken salad that is growing in popularity is made with fat-free sour cream, nonfat yogurt, curry powder, toasted almonds and Granny Smith apples.”
Although the program has only been up and running at Cisco since November, for heightened interest Castronovo began rotating in some new spreads, including spicy hummus, this spring. “My salad deli bar staff added pureed jalapeños with hummus,” he explains. “We label it ‘spicy,’ but there’s no room to list all the ingredients. I’ve also made fat-free dried cherry mayo by reconstituting some dried cherries in apple juice for about five minutes on the stove. Then, I puree the mixture and fold in fat-free mayonnaise. It goes well on a turkey sandwich and customers love it.”
Today, Castronovo says he sees “the pendulum is swinging to the healthy side” in sales. However, he also has noticed that customers are building “really healthy size” sandwiches with the average selling between $4 and $5.
When Sodexho rolled out its Ultimate Deli concept two years ago, TJX, a B&I account in Framingham, MA, served as the test site. Even today, Sodexho operators planning to implement the program pay area general manager Michael Potvin a visit since he’s the guy who fine-tuned it and rolled it out to all the contractor’s corporate services accounts in the Northeast.
Pre-assembly: The Ultimate Deli is set up as a station versus a do-it-yourself bar and features hand-crafted specialty sandwiches that are pre-assembled before service and displayed on a platter to help improve speed of service. “Here, we have six choices of sandwiches—most smaller locations menu five—and we refresh the selections every six months,” Potvin explains. “We identify the three sandwiches they’d like to take off and replace them with three new items. Recipes come to us in the 4SOF (4 Seasons of Flavors) marketing kit that’s sent to us four times a year for the whole location, so in two of those kits we receive ideas to refresh the deli.”
With a building population of 2,100, Potvin’s staff prepares about 150 pre-made sandwiches daily, but he finds an equal number of deli requests are for made-to-order sandwiches in which customers are looking for the basics.
“Some of our new menu items include roast turkey ciabatta club, roast beef and arugula baguette and a Mediterranean grilled chicken pita that fits Sodexho’s ‘Your Health, Your Way’ heart healthy guidelines,” Potvin says. “Plus, there’s always a vegetarian choice; for the next six months it will be Tuscan pesto portabello focaccia. These hand-crafted specialty sandwiches are priced from $4.79 to $4.99.” Potvin notes that this account is subsidized.
However, if customers choose to build their own, such as ham and cheese on focaccia, the attendant behind the counter checks off “basic sandwich,” plus “premium bread” on a ticket so the cashier knows what to charge. A build-your-own basic sandwich includes a protein, lettuce, tomato and onion for $2.99.
In addition to the six specialty sandwiches menued at TJX, customers can also choose an LTO (limited time offer) deal or a weekly special such as lemon and artichoke chicken, one of four or five specials that rotate through on a four-week cycle. There’s also a dedicated wrap station that offers two varieties of grilled quesadillas and two grilled paninis, pre-assembled each day. Here, the station adjoins the Ultimate Deli, but in a smaller unit, a quesadilla or panini might be the LTO of the week.
Is ‘Feta Compli’ Done For?
With edgy names and unique fillings, a Chicago campus deli beats the street.
Once upon a time, Robert Bearman owned a deli/coffee shop in Chicago; his primary claim to fame was that he operated the only espresso coffee machine in a seven-block area. Since he handled catering in the Loop, Bearman needed phenomenal sandwiches; his reputation for those preceded him.
After selling his business in 2001, he joined Aramark as foodservice director at Loyola University of Chicago’s North Campus. With the opening of new dorms at the Water Tower Campus, Bearman has been assigned as foodservice director at its Terry Food Court. There, he’s had great fun revamping many of his old menus from his coffee shop/deli days.
“Last summer, I figured I needed one person for the deli, but by the spring I’d already hired a third,” Bearman beams. “We’re open seven days a week from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., and 11 to 5 p.m. on weekends. There are more than 50 people in by 11:15 in the morning—and they’re eating sandwiches. Perhaps it’s the perception of health. I know in my heart it’s healthy; it beats having a six-ounce burger. Sandwiches are very regulated as to portion control. When you put all the ingredients on, it’s about a five-inch high sandwich—but it’s based on two and a half ounces of meat. Most of it is veggies, water and carbs. O.K., I’ll admit the tuna’s a little wicked.” (Actually, the tuna is a mix of mayo, rough diced water chestnuts for crunch, and white pepper—not that “wicked” after all.) All nutrition breakouts are available on-line.
Bearman’s innovative 10-item core menu easily competes with the 32 venues within a four-block radius of the Water Tower campus. It was designed to attract faculty, staff, upperclassmen and graduate students who attend classes and live on campus.
“Customize? Everything is ‘Yes!’ That’s our mantra,” Bearman asserts. “And when I’m hiring for the deli, I say, ‘Send me a smile—anyone can make a sandwich.’”
Talk to Bearman about bread and he grows emphatic: “We made a conscious effort not to have plain white or rye here. ‘Artisan’ is the key word. We wanted white and whole wheat from a high-end Chicago baker and now we have a 6-inch hinged focaccia—white and whole wheat versions. We have flavored tortillas and a pita for the Middle Eastern sandwich—that’s tabbouleh salad served with tomato, alfalfa sprouts, feta cheese, kalamata olives and red onion with hummus—but we don’t have any other breads over there.”
Here, the best seller is the California: sliced chicken breast piled high with fresh avocado, Monterey Jack cheese, alfalfa sprouts, cucumber, tomato, lettuce and chipotle mayo. Somewhat at the opposite end of the heart healthy spectrum, the No.2 ranking belongs to the Italian Picnic: three Italian meats topped with provolone cheese, roasted red pepper, tomato and lettuce with a balsamic vinaigrette. Prices range from $4.50 to $5.19, with an average food cost of 25% to 30%.
When a weekly special, such as a chicken sandwich with fresh basil and pine nuts, is extremely popular, Bearman just substitutes it for one of his core items. “That one was such a major hit that I’m thinking of taking away Feta Compli—feta cheese and ham with roasted red pepper, tomato and lettuce with a vinaigrette—’though it kills me ’cause I love the name. But this really is a student-driven menu. I empty the suggestion box every night and read them all.”
Yummy Deli for Patients Now a Staff Request
When the cafeteria at 689-bed Maine Medical Center in Portland was renovated in 2000, it became “the largest single-site restaurant in the State of Maine,” culinary and nutrition manager John Romano points out. Satisfying patients as well as approximately 3,000 cafeteria customers—in fact, 70% of meals at MMC are non-patient—keeps him on his toes. By menuing a broad selection of deli options, from made-to-order wraps to traditional BLT Club sandwiches, as well as the old but rediscovered Farmer John, The Good Day Deli provides a welcoming selection for all comers.
“It’s a sandwich crowd at lunchtime in the Impressions Café and our Good Day Deli could be twice the size it is. Customers are more into a hot meal for dinner. But sometimes, instead of a sandwich, they just want the ‘guts,’ perhaps simply some tuna on one slice of bread, so we’ve added some meats into the salad bar.
"Wraps are very big today and we’re selling about 100 to 150 a day. Usually there’s a special wrap of the day, but all wraps are made to order. I think part of the allure is that they can eat it with their hands, but some people are counting carbs and it’s flat, [seemingly] with fewer carbs. Especially teenage visitors come in and order a wrap instead of a sandwich. We’re also doing some things with focaccia and artisan breads, such as five-grain, whole wheat, oatmeal—the dietitians love that.
"There’s also Portuguese, Kaiser and sub rolls, so you can have your sandwich any way with pickles and olives. There are also pre-made wraps to go, so it’s not exactly your way, but the name is self-explanatory, such as a Buffalo chicken wrap or a chicken Caesar wrap. Chicken is very popular so we’re doing some of the Tuscan wraps such as beans with chicken and lettuce. But there’s also hot chili on a warm corn tortilla. You can wrap it or take it in the taco cup [the taco is formed into a cup shape] on a to-go plate. I think it’s a ‘man thing.’ Plus, there’s cold chicken with warm poppy seed dressing over lettuce. We do these hot salads at the deli and that’s one of the [MMC] president’s favorites. It’s more unexpected to have hot dressing—it’s a pleasant surprise.
"There’s also a grill tied into the deli and the old grilled cheese with tomato remains the ultimate comfort food. You always need to be ready for the ‘white bread’ crowd.
"An Italian sandwich on a sub roll is always a solid seller. It includes Italian cold cuts (i.e., prosciutto, Genoa salami and capicola), provolone cheese, tomatoes, white onion, green peppers, sour pickles and black olives. With salt and pepper and olive oil drizzled over the ingredients, it’s so popular that’s it’s also on the patient menu. For patients, we can do it as a Turkey Italian sandwich—the dietitians like that—or substitute ham and cheese for the Italian cold cuts.
"At the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital [which we serve], peanut butter and grape or apple jelly is very popular. Their menu is very much geared to what children will actually eat. We learned from the pediatric physicians that if you want to get them well, feed them what they want to get the calories into them. But PB&J is also on the menu at the main cafeteria deli. I’ll go there and get it on white bread with grape jelly; sometimes that’s just what your body says it wants.
"A turkey club is the biggest ‘seller’ on our patient room service menu [room service is provided for new moms, oncology and 23-hour acute care patients]. I saw a photo years ago that showed a club sandwich with skewers and olives. So we found these giant olives and long bamboo sticks; now, each triangle is skewered and separated by these huge olives. It’s pretty impressive looking.”