Photos: Carter Oswood
Sandwich places in the Drake community are a dime a dozen. Really good sandwich places are rare. But a good, affordable sandwich place that can greet you by name is a diamond in the rough.
The Manhattan Deli is one of these diamonds.
Located on 3705 Ingersoll Ave., five minutes from campus, the deli is a quiet, unassuming building with a simple sign. Walk through the doors and you’re greeted by the sizzle of frying peppers, the smell of fresh bread and the sound of full, happy stomachs. It’s this cozy familiarity and darn good food that draw an extremely loyal crowd. The menu hasn’t changed a lot over the years and features both hot and cold sandwiches as well as soups and salads.
As patrons stand there amid the mustard yellow booths, they are greeted by a bright smile straight from the owner.
Fred Hagar has been working at the deli for over 30 years. After he graduated from college, Hagar decided he didn’t want to work for someone else and he started the deli. It then grew into a family business, and passion that is kept alive today by him and his mother. The building had already existed as a deli when the Hagars moved in — they simply changed the name and the décor. As business slowly picked up over the years, they found they needed more space and converted the Baskin Robbins next door into a larger seating section. That was about 10 years ago, and business is still booming. Hagar said he is hesitant to change anything because of the loyalty his customers have to the restaurant. He might have to remodel to make even more space in the near future, he said.
Hagar’s day typically begins at 5 a.m. when he wakes up to arrive at the deli by 6 a.m. He and his employees begin the task of cooking the meats and slicing the cheese and vegetables. One employee’s sole job is cutting meats and cheeses all day. Soups and salads are made fresh that morning, and the menu boasts four soups per day. The only thing they don’t make fresh and in-house is their bread, which would be prohibitively time consuming considering they turn out about 300 sandwiches daily. When asked what menu item people seem to like the best, he responds “the good food.”
Several years ago, longer than either would like to keep track, Steve DeVries wandered into the deli and decided it would be a good place to work. And thus, the dream team of Hagar as owner and DeVries as manager was born. Hagar and DeVries insist on running a tight ship. They think having older, more experienced people running the business means more supervision. All employees have been working at the deli for at least five years and work together like a well-oiled machine.
Because they work so efficiently, they can spend time and effort getting to know their customers. The men estimate they know roughly 80 percent of the people who walk through the door and can even recall the names of some familiar faces on the Drake football team.
“People like to go where you [sic] feel recognized,” DeVries said. “Where you can have a chat, and people know your name.” He’s gotten to the point where he can start making somebody their usual sandwich before they’ve even come completely through the door. It’s this personal touch that ensures that they will never get bought out by a large chain sandwich shop and will endear the deli into the hearts of the Drake community for years to come.