tries to make its location on the outskirts of Port Jefferson a positive by offering lower prices than village restaurants for its traditional deli food in a cozy atmosphere that owner Carl Bachmann likens to the hangout in Happy Days.
Free delivery service anywhere in the village doesn’t hurt either.
Bachmann didn’t want to sell his franchise business at Ruby Tuesdays this past August where he owned and ran 10 restaurants on Long Island but the corporation bought him out.
When that happened, he knew that he’d have something to fall back on, a custom catering business that he started years ago and had been running out of his deli in Port Jefferson since May.
Having lived in Port Jefferson for more than 15 years, Bachmann immediately knew that he’d have something different to offer residents and visitors to the village, something that was in stark contrast to the corporate restaurant chain he’d been running.
“Port Jefferson didn’t have a New York Style deli,” he said.
Bachmann–who grew up in Manhattan surrounded by “great ethnic food”–looked around the village and saw many different styles of restaurants from upscale steak places to sushi shops but a classic deli was something it lacked.
When the building at 156 West Broadway became available last year, he snatched it up. The place had been around for over 100 years, according to Bachmann and he said that a husband and wife ran it from 1931 until 1980. Most recently it served as the Portside Deli and before that it had been called Pirate’s Cove.
Being on the edge of Port Jefferson village, just west of the Brookhaven Town boat launch, Bachmann's deli is sort of off the beaten path for most tourists. His biggest challenge has been getting the word out.
“We get the boaters and we get a lot of the locals who don’t want to deal with the tourists,” he said. By necessity Bachmann said that residents have to give up their village to tourists.
There is a plus side to his location.
“Rents are better than if we were sitting on Main Street,” he said. “We’d have to charge a few more dollars.”
He also offers a frequent buyer card to entice people to continue to come back and offers free delivery to the village even on orders as small as one sandwich or one coffee. Another important difference from most village restaurants is that his location offers free parking.
But what he really hopes will attract the customers is the offer of customized, comfort food prepared by his chef, Andy Lalonde who has worked with Bachmann as his culinary director for years.
The menu is made up of traditional deli fare: breakfast sandwiches, heroes and soup, along with paninis, wraps and special salads.
His best selling sandwich is the “Monica,” named after his daughter's favorite combination of chicken cutlet with American cheese, bacon and Thousand Island dressing. ($5.95 for a sandwich or $7.45 on a hero.)
His other sandwich combinations include the “Fat Uncle,” which has Italian salami, capocolla, pepperoni, provolone, roasted peppers and Italian dressing and the “Angry Turkey” made up of peppercorn turkey, pepper jack cheese and horseradish sauce.
The deli also offers a Sunday Brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for $9.95. Children under 10 can eat for $4.95.
Bachmann said he’s always expanding his menu and trying different things to keep it interesting. He recently introduced a special line of half-pound burgers.
According to Linda Shapiro, Bachmann’s director of event planning, the café’s kitchen also prepares meals for the custom catering business.
“It has a very unique concept in that we create unique menus for every event that we do, from backyard barbecues to elegant weddings in the vineyards,” she said.
Bachmann said he’ll even look in the customer's refrigerator to get a sense of how to customize food for an event.
“It’s really personalized,” he said. “We take the chef’s ego and put it in our back pocket.”
Each menu is designed for the individual, taking into account personal likes and ethnic background. He’ll even ask for family recipes, preparing what he calls a dish that is a "tribute to grandma."
Bob Nicols, a frequent customer, said that’s what he likes about the Custom Café and Deli.
“Carl and his crew go out of their way to make the customers feel welcome and they keep trying new ideas like their Sunday brunch to attract new customers,” he said.
When he moved in to the building, Bachmann had some work to do renovating the place. He painted and cleaned it up but he didn’t want to make it look too modern.
“The whole character is homey,” he said, pointing out the jukebox and Grand Slam pinball machine from 1972. “It’s the whole vintage thing.”
People who have been coming to the location for two generations tell him they love what he’s done with the place. Despite the old fashioned booths there are some modern touches too. He has flat screen televisions and free WiFi, which he said students from Stony Brook University love. He’s even had professors do some tutoring and hold student meetings there.
Bachmann likes that his deli fosters a community spirit.
“I envision this as the modern day Arnold’s on Happy Days,” he said.