Marshall V. King
Dining A La King
ELKHART — In the fall of 1983, Janice Hayden and her sister opened a restaurant called Old Style Deli.
It was in the former Woody and Erma’s, a popular Elkhart restaurant in the back of the Ziesel’s Department Store.
It was a deli with a bunch of inexpensive sandwiches.
And an Elkhart tradition that continues 30 years later began.
Hayden’s sister Jennifer Keskenin left the business after a few years.
Hayden moved to a location on High Street a few blocks away when the building at 323 S. Main St. was torn down.
And in 1996, she moved it to 200 S. Main St., where it still serves a huge menu of sandwiches to those who make their way downtown or work here.
“Thirty years,” she said, almost in disbelief.
She has a scrapbook with photos from over the years. There’s one of a young Marshall dancing at a party she had at the High Street location one night.
In the early 1990s, Truth reporters Dave Schreiber and Jim Miller went to the Deli on High Street five days a week.
They were gracious enough to let a young reporter tag along. And I too became friends with Hayden and her staff.
Pam Knight had just joined the staff. She’s still with Hayden. “Pam makes all the sandwiches consistently the same,” Hayden said. “She’s ‘Mini Boss.’ That’s what I call her.”
What’s amazing is how the two of them working full-time with a part-time lunch staffer crank out breakfast and lunch weekdays.
Hayden tends to take the orders. Knight puts the food together.
They work hard.
“Nothing comes in a bag or a box,” Hayden said.
They don’t hand-patty the burgers, but what she means is that they put the sandwiches together, cook the Hot Plate and Healthy Plate specials.
Knight bakes and bakes well. “We still sell tons of chocolate chip cookies,” Hayden said.
They just updated the lunch menu and are working on the breakfast menu.
At breakfast, you can get omelets, eggs to order and the usual array of meats. And this time of year you can sometimes get pumpkin pancakes.
The lunch menu has always amazed me. It still does.
It’s overwhelming but simple.
It lists options by the type of meat. Turkey sandwiches are listed together, as are chicken, pastrami and hot dogs.
This is not a classic Jewish deli. This is an Elkhart deli. And the sandwiches are consistently good.
The days of the $3 sandwich that I remember are gone, but the prices are right. Most are $5.99. And they still have interesting combinations and names.
The new menu has a Jimmy Fallon, replacing the Jay Leno and joining the Conan O’Brien and David Letterman.
The David Letterman is still one of the deli’s best-selling sandwiches. It has hot roast beef on a deli roll with cheddar, grilled onions and horseradish sauce. The O’Brien is the same except is has pastrami. The Fallon is the same except with hot turkey.
The Ham Kinneson (remember Sam?) has swiss, cheddar, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise on grilled Italian bread.
Long before hot dog carts came to town, Hayden was selling a quarter-pound hot dog with various toppings. Lou Dog follows the comedian formula and isn’t healthy but is delicious.
I’m also a fan of the Katzenburger, a turkey burger with cheddar, green olives, tomato, lettuce and mayo on a whole wheat bun.
Long before being vegetarian was common, Hayden and Knight were serving such sandwiches. The Lydia with herbed cream cheese, tomato, cucumber and sprouts is good, but I favor Randy’s Tupelo Honey with two cheeses, tomato, avocado, red onion and honey mustard on grilled, dark rye.
The new menu also has more salads.
And in addition to the waffle fries they call “deli chips,” fried cauliflower bites and onion rings are on the menu.
And part of the beauty of the deli is that, since the beginning, delivery is available in downtown Elkhart, even for a single sandwich. That’s been a savior on a busy day in the newsroom on more than one occasion.
Hayden has seen downtown Elkhart change and not change. “I still think we could be equal to Goshen as far as retail,” she said.
She can be feisty. She’s been outspoken about downtown issues. She loves downtown Elkhart and the customers whom she’s come to love over the years.
“Elkhart keeps trying. That I like,” she said.
She grew up in Cassopolis and didn’t know anyone in Elkhart when she started working here.
Now she can tell stories about many of the downtown employees and their businesses.
Several groups of regulars meet every morning. Elkhart historian Paul Thomas, who just turned 90, is part of the one that gathers at 9:30 a.m.
The building at 200 S. Main St. is historical, he said. At one time, the city’s KKK headquarters was on the second floor.
But now the deli serves his coffee and serves many others. “It’s a very important part of Elkhart,” he said.
Hayden’s customers love her and she them.
“I still have the best customers,” she said. The last week of October, she’ll offer specials during Customer Appreciation Week.
She turns 60 this year and won’t keep working at the counter of the deli forever. “It still concerns me that they don’t get their sandwiches when I’m done,” she said.
She doesn’t know when she’ll be done. I don’t look forward to the day and hope the tradition continues.
But as Hayden and I both know, times change. And you never truly know what’s ahead. So for now, I’ll take another bite of one of her sandwiches. And enjoy an Elkhart tradition.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.
If You Go
What: Old Style Deli
Where: 200 S. Main St., Elkhart
Fare: American breakfast and lunch, including sandwiches, soups and salads
Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 6:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday
Details: No smoking; delivery available in downtown Elkhart; call-in orders accepted, but no fax.
On the web: www.facebook.com/oldstyledeli
Marshall V. King is managing editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at 574-296-5805, email@example.com, on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.