Deli departs after 43 years of serving sandwiches
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The Yamron family, the owners of Nathan Detroit’s Sandwich Pad in the Lombard Concourse, will be closing up shop for the last time this summer.
Mother Fraydel and daughters Brenlea and Karen Yamron have been serving up corned beef sandwiches and other deli fare to the Portage and Main crowd for more than four decades.
The good-natured trio are the types that would say the misfortune that’s led to their decision to close the family business is nothing compared to the hardships others have to endure.
“We will be fine,” Brenlea said.
Although Brenlea said the restaurant has pivoted many times “before pivot was fashionable” the fact the post-pandemic end of restrictions has not produced the return to traffic in the concourse made them realize it was time to close the doors.
“The pandemic has decimated downtown and, on a selfish basis, more importantly to us, it has decimated Portage and Main,” she said.
Nathan Detroit’s was an operation that suited the pre-pandemic environment and absolutely did not fare well under the restrictive measures enacted because of COVID.
Because of its location in an underground concourse, there was no curbside pick up. They could not open a patio. Food delivery services — who Brenlea said “would not touch us with a 10-foot pole — had nowhere to park and no easy access to get in and out quickly. (And, she said, the cost was “astronomical.”)
The deli did its own delivery and was happy to do so. It was also active on social media.
In fact they were so active that when they posted the news on Instagram this week that the restaurant would be closing, the outpouring of affection was such that they are way behind on replying to all their well-wishers.
“Please let everyone know we will get back to people,” Brenlea said.
Her father, Ian, who passed away in 2001, bought the small sandwich shop in the concourse in 1981. Freydel, 79, has been working the shop ever since.
The deli spent three decades in one spot in the concourse — expanding to 150 seats — then in 2010 moved a couple of doors down.
“My father was our inspiration,” Brenlea said. “He didn’t know anything about the restaurant business but he was the world’s greatest eater and he was the world’s greatest people person.”
In its early days it was one of the only food offerings in the underground mall. In the last 10 years or so Tim Horton’s and Marcello’s Market and Deli moved in just a couple of storefronts away.
But it wasn’t the competition that forced them to close.
“Competition keeps you honest,” said Brenlea.
It wasn’t the trend to healthier eating habits that drove people away, either. While it’s true, they used to wrap up hundreds of fatty corned beef sandwiches in the morning, literally tossing them to patrons lined up at lunch, they added salads and other healthy items to the menu over the years.
Prior to the pandemic, Nathan Detroit’s had customers who were working from home and they were already aware of that phenomenon.
Brenlea said, “If you had asked me prior to pandemic what our greatest challenge was, I would have said, people working from home. It was becoming part of the equation already. The pandemic just blew it out of the water.”
But she said the deli was “all about the people and relationships” for her family and she acknowledges the benefits that a hybrid work style affords people.
“But it doesn’t work for Nathan Detroit’s,” she said.
The family is leaving on their own terms. They typically take off the first two weeks of July and will come back and finish the closure, although a final date has not been set.
The company is not leaving anyone in the lurch including suppliers like City Bread, Gunn’s and Smith’s Quality Meats who have been suppliers since Day 1.
Asked what she will do in retirement, Fraydel said, “This is already retirement. When you retire you’re supposed to supposed to go out and do things for other people. That’s what I have been doing.”
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.