4th Street Deli opens — despite economy

October 30, 2009
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Why would the owners of a successful deli and catering service on the city’s southeast side take the risk of opening a second restaurant on the west side of town during a faltering economy?

Because they saw an opportunity that the difficult economy had presented to them.

Scott and Suzanne Schulz, owners of Cherry Deli and Catering at 834 Cherry St. SE, opened the 4th Street Deli just about a month ago, and so far business has exceeded their expectations.

“At some point, the economy is going to rebound. But the biggest thing that we noticed is the trend of what’s happening with the economy. People aren’t eating at the fine-dining restaurants anymore because they don’t have the money to go out two or three times a month to fine dining,” said Scott Schulz, chief chef and co-owner with his wife, Suzanne, who is the city’s planning director.

“So the level at where people are willing to spend has actually moved down more toward the mid-range, and because we have a higher-end deli, that’s where we fall into. That was our anticipation of what was going on,” he added.

Schulz said clear proof that dining habits have changed can be found in the downtown restaurants, where menus have been modified and prices have fallen. Further proof is found at chain restaurants that are waging price wars by offering two meals for under $20 and subs and pizzas for around $5.

“They’re all just spinning themselves into the ground,” he said. “They’re not making money anymore because they’re doing so much discounting.

“We’ve stayed true at Cherry Deli all the time. My prices have been the same. If I have to do increases due to higher costs to me, people understand that, because they don’t want their portion size cut and they don’t want their quality to go away.”

The Schulz’s took that business philosophy to the 4th Street Deli at 528 Fourth St. NW, on the southeast corner of Fourth and Seward Avenue. The deli is located in the former Enterprise Iron & Metal Co. building that was recently renovated by Robert and David Israels of Israels Designs for Living and Klingman’s Furniture fame.

“While it’s a move to the other side of town, it made perfect sense. If I would have opened another one close to Cherry Deli, it would have made no sense because I would have been competing against myself,” he said.

Most small restaurants open on a main street, or in the middle of a busy business district. The 4th Street Deli, though, isn’t situated in either.

“No, we’re not. But we analyzed our traffic flows. Where I am pinned into is where the student housing for GVSU is, between there and the college. And Seward links Fulton and Leonard together — it’s one of the only paths that goes all the way through — so the traffic flow up and down here was awesome,” said Schulz.

Besides the traffic and students, employees of American Seating and Israels Designs for Living are within walking distance of the deli. So are those who live nearby, like the condo owners in the Union Square building just a few blocks west.

“Then there is everything that is going to be developed in the future, even along Bridge Street, and everything else in the corridor are all future pieces of what’s being added on,” said Schulz.

“There is the Drueke building that is diagonal to us, another one that Bob Israels is redoing, and that’s going to have another couple hundred employees associated with it.”

Schulz said the deli is also pulling people from downtown and from the Cherry Deli on the other side of town. He said westside residents who ate at the Cherry Deli now stop in at the 4th Street Deli, which has a larger dining room and offers free parking.

“What we’re offering is a crazy menu of 100 sandwiches, so there’s no way someone isn’t going to find something they will like,” he said.

Twenty of those sandwiches are vegetarian. The deli also offers 20 salads and six fresh soups. The biggest seller has been the Bridge Street Sandwich, which is turkey, bacon and white cheddar cheese topped with some parmesan and mayo and grilled on whole-wheat panini bread.

The Schulz’s purposely gave the 4th Street Deli a menu that differs from the one at Cherry Deli. “That’s something that I strive for, so I’m not chain-ish. I don’t want people saying that’s it’s just like the other one,” he said.

Chris Sommerfeldt manages the new deli, which is open 10:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays.

“We’re doing really great — actually even better than I thought it would be. I’m doing double over what I did with Cherry Deli when it opened, so that’s fantastic,” said Schulz.

“Everything in life is a gamble and it depends on what you’re willing to do for it. I went to school and I worked for a very awesome guy named Greg Gilmore (CEO of the Gilmore Collection) for many years, and I learned a lot of Greg’s philosophies. One was, there is never a great time (to open a restaurant), so just do it. I’ve also got Bob and David Israels behind me, being my landlords, and they believe in me.”

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