Commonwealth Journal

Local News

August 28, 2011

Old Town Deli a welcome addition to downtown area

Somerset — There’s a lot of Somerset to be found in the new Old Town Deli — both in the food and the furnishings.

A welcome addition on what has recently been a lonely downtown Somerset landscape, Old Town Deli begins its first official week in business tomorrow morning.

The brainchild of Roger Estep, a Somerset Police officer, and wife Heather, Old Town Deli’s sign has for some time now been visible above the window of what was formerly the Crest Electronics store on East Mt. Vernon Street. The notion of a new place downtown to eat has had passers-by abuzz — and with good reason.

“We wanted to offer something to downtown Somerset that it didn’t have,” said Heather Estep. “You have places where you can sit down and have lunch, and you have fast food, but there’s not much in between.”

To be sure, downtown is not the hotbed of shopping and dining that it once was. There are places to eat, but options are limited. That’s something the Esteps are hoping to help fix, however.

“If you want to sit in here for an hour and eat lunch, we’d love to have you,” said Heather Estep. “If you need to get it and go and be out of here quick, that’s great and we can get that done for you too. It’s not a sit-down-and-we’ll-bring-your-food-out-to-you; it’s a place where we can take your order and you can sit down, but not fast food either. It’s in-between.”

That isn’t the most unique thing about Old Town Deli, however, though it does serve as a multi-functional deli where people can buy meat and produce and take it home to make something on their own.

What really stands out are the little pieces of Pulaski County itself to be found in the restaurant. Old Town Deli is designated as a “Kentucky Proud” establishment — meaning that the ingredients you’re likely to find there came from right here in the Bluegrass State.

Indeed, Old Town Deli is keeping it local. Heather Estep said they’ll buy produce grown here at the farmer’s market and from local distributors. They’re buying not just produce but also a line of pork products from Haney’s Appledale Farm, a Nancy-area institution. Coffee will come from Somerset’s own Baxter’s, and eggs from those grown at the McAlpin Family Farm in west Pulaski. Local barbecue icon “Johnny B.” Perkins has his one-of-a-kind sauce carried at Old Town Deli, and the cole slaw from Mac’s Village Pantry — the same found at the old Finley’s restaurant, which for years stood as a Pulaski County favorite — will be available as well.

“We’re going to have a ‘Pulaski Plate,’” said Estep. “It’s on a homemade bun, Haney’s pulled pork with an apple orchard BBQ sauce and a side of the Finley’s recipe cole slaw.”

Certainly, it’s enough to make any proud Pulaskian’s mouth water at the very thought. But the local flavor doesn’t stop there.

The owners have enlisted the help of folks like Somerset High School athletic director Bob Tucker and the Pulaski County Historical Society to obtain vintage photos of Somerset, showing what the town — and it’s people — were like in days gone by. The restaurant may not be filled with these images on opening day, but plans are to have them in place very soon.

“I hope someone will walk in and say, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s my 1965 cheerleading picture,’” said Heather Estep. “That’s what I want for people — to look at this place and feel like they’re a part of it, and that their community is in here.”

Even the walls tell a story. In renovating the building — the Esteps have experience in buying and fixing up residential properties — the plaster was taken off the walls, exposing the brick beneath. The building immediately east of Old Town Deli’s brick structure is now serving as the wall for the restaurant — and those aren’t just any bricks. Look closely and you’ll notice they’re larger than most used for buildings. That’s because they’re “paver” bricks from the late 1920s, not construction-use bricks.

“A long time ago, East Mt. Vernon Street used to be mud,” said Heather Estep. “When the city contracted to brick the street, the contractor dropped bricks in the lot next door.”

Legend has it that the paving job never got done — or, at the least, it was done with asphalt. According to Gib Gosser, executive director of the Downtown Somerset Development Corporation, the man who owned the lot built a building there out of the bricks.

Estep pointed out the horsehair mortar used to bond the bricks together — there are bits of hair in it, and the careful eye can even spot traces of corn.

The deli isn’t all that’s going to be new. The Esteps are also renovating an apartment upstairs from the deli in the same building, which they intend to rent. With all-new furnishings and features, the Esteps hope it will be an attractive place for someone to dwell.

The Esteps chose the building to make their restaurant a home by taking their children in a stroller and going for a walk downtown, looking at storefronts. They’d already decided they wanted to seek out a new direction in life, and draw upon Heather’s experience in the food supplier industry to open a restaurant of some kind.

“We looked at what’s for sale, what’s it going to cost us, how much work does it need, what does the building offer, and location,” said Heather Estep, who noted that interested parties have been stopping in asking how the Esteps were able to make the deli a reality. “We are a little further down than most — there’s a lot of empty buildings here — but we have a building that had great features. It just needed some love.”

Gosser said the building has been vacant for half a decade, and has housed a number of businesses over the years —before Crest Electronics, there was Chestnut and Perry Television, then Perry Radio and TV, and then Cumberland Appliances. Gosser also recalled it being the start of Somerset Marine, and what eventually turned into Sharpe Houseboats.

Heather Estep gives a lot of credit to the Downtown Somerset Development Corporation for helping make this dream possible. She said there were four loans and grants available from DSDC to aid the cause, including a facade loan for the outside, money for an upper story conversion (the apartment), downstairs remodeling, and even money to do the sign.

“The loans are low interest and you have a year to start paying most of them back,” said Heather Estep. “That helps us get ready to start generating revenue. ... For the upper story conversation, we could spend up to a certain amount, so we were able to take the matching funds and make what we had even greater. (DSDC) has been a huge help in encouraging Somerset to come back to life.”

For his part, Gosser said he’s “tickled to death” to bring in a new eatery for downtown denizens, as well as the apartment facility.

The restaurant’s first taste of business came Saturday at Somernites Cruise, where the Esteps served hungry car enthusiasts. Keeping hours from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays, they hope being open later than many other downtown businesses will allow citizens to stop in after work and pick up some food that they can take home with them to their own kitchens.

Lifelong natives of Pulaski County, with deep family roots in the community, the Esteps found naming the restaurant “harder than naming (their) children,” according to Heather, but struck inspiration with Old Town Deli because it simply and modestly says “where it is and what it is.” It’s a great way to pay homage to the place the Esteps call home — something they do in so very many different ways.

“We were raised here, our grandparents were raised here, our great-grandparents were raised here,” said Heather Estep. “I graduated from Somerset (High School), my parents graduated from Somerset, my grandparents graduated from Somerset, and my children will graduate from Somerset. I grew up in the First United Methodist Church (which is across the street from the deli).

“We’re a part of this, and being a part of it, we want to encourage growth and revival for Somerset,” she continued. “Downtown Somerset was great and with what the Downtown Somerset Development Corporation is doing, they’re trying to make it great again. We’re excited to be a part of that.”

•••

CJ reporter Chris Harris can be reached at charris@somerset-kentucky.com.

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