Hoagie's Corner: Is 35th & Barton Big Enough for Two Sub Sandwich Counters?"/>
In a capitalist society, if one person thinks she's more skilled than her boss at something, she has the right to quit, start her own business, and prove it. And nothing's more American than a food fight in close proximity, even when rival proprietors share DNA: In Detroit, when one member of the Keros clan thought he could make coneys (Motown-style hot dogs) better than his brother, he opened his own competing restaurant next door.
Which brings us to the plight of Super Deli Mart and JC's Deli, two hoagie purveyors located within half a block of one another at the corner of 35th and Barton in West Seattle. Min Chung owns the former store, famous for being Seattle's most unlikely draft house. When he purchased that business, there was a woman who'd been working at the corner store for the better part of two decades named Jeanette Cummings. When Cummings started working at the store, it was known as Hoagie's Corner, which Chung had fond memories of from his youth.
Cummings had weathered several ownership changes during her tenure at the store, but she and Chung didn't click. "I didn't care for him, so I quit," says Cummings. Of Cummings, Chung says, "I have nothing really nice to say," other than to concede that she boasts talent in the preparation of hoagie sandwiches.
After parting company with Chung, Cummings spent a couple of years staffing the deli counter at a gas station a block north on 35th. While there, Cummings noticed a For Rent sign across the street near two newish eateries, Stuffed Cakes and the West Seattle Fish House, as well as Bird on a Wire Espresso. The space was small--perfect for a deli counter and a handful of tables. Cummings signed a lease, and with her 28-year-old daughter working the register, opened JC's Deli on October 23 of this year.
Aesthetically, Super Deli and JC's could not be more different. The former looks like a retro 7-Eleven inside and out, with bright interior lights and shelves and coolers lined with specialty wine, beer and cigars. Meanwhile, JC's is so dark and cozy as to border on romantic, an odd look for a deli, but a welcome one nonetheless. Yet there's one eerie similarity between the two places: the sandwich menu at JC's, while written in neon, is a sequential carbon copy of the one at Super Deli, something that Chung admits "is a little bit unnerving."
Sampling a French, it's evident that the menu isn't the only thing about JC's that's reminiscent of Super Deli. The two sandwiches taste nearly identical, with JC's packing a bit more meat between its buns, and Super Deli perhaps using ingredients of a slightly higher quality. It'd be easy to call Cummings a copycat if it weren't for the fact that she's been preparing these kind of sandwiches since before Chung took over down the street. If you want to call the sandwiches of Super Deli and JC's anything, just call them delicious, because that's what they both are.
"I don't care if all his customers come up here," says Cummings. "I don't care what he thinks or if he's mad at me, because we are not friends anyway."
"For her to open up half a block away and think she can take all my customers, there's very little I can say about that," counters Chung. "If she runs a deli that's uniquely different, both businesses can survive. My main focus has been beer; the sandwiches--I grew up eating them. For me, it's an added plus; it makes it very personal. Right now our sandwich sales are strong. If my sandwich sales go down, my sandwich sales go down. If my beer sales go down, I'll freak out."
"I wish her well," continues Chung, veering onto the high road. "I'm hoping for her to find her own niche. She made a smart move by moving into a very small unit. She doesn't have to sell as much to cover costs. For me, I don't perceive this as a war. I'm sure there are enough people in this neighborhood to support both businesses."