FANCY GAP — Walking across the patio at “The Gap Deli At The Parkway” and in the front door is a little like getting in touch with one’s inner “Norm” from the television show “Cheers.” Sure, diners at the small restaurant first and foremost talk about a favorite menu item, but there’s that smile on your face when you know they know you.
A mix of locals and newbies regularly packing the place appear to prove the lyric, “Where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.”
More importantly, first timers can’t help but notice how the staff knows its regular customers as well as the fresh offerings served up with as many on-site made touches as the tiny kitchen can crank out. The restaurant is currently open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. and will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. beginning April 1.
According to Manager Shannon Burnett, the busy little bistro is also considering offering brunches on Saturdays and Sundays (at 10 a.m.) with bagels, muffins, quiche or some type of breakfast casserole supplementing the regular menu items. The restaurant’s menu includes burgers, hot dogs, build-your-own sandwich choices, wraps, classic specialty sandwiches and vegetarian options including wraps.
“We’ve had a lot of good comments on our own bean burger we make ourselves,” Burnett said. “Our homemade soups are really popular as well. We also offer salads from light to a loaded taco salad.”
She said the lack of a vast kitchen also insures freshness because they simply don’t have a lot of room to keep items weeks ahead of time. The deli also has added a kids menu (with a child-sized version of the classic club sandwich called the mini golf club). She said their desserts including cakes (hummingbird and carrot cake), brownies, apple dumplings and peanut butter pies, which have been well received. Made-from-scratch lemon bars are also planned a a seasonal offering at the deli.
“We’re looking at adding a few new brunchy items,” said Burnett. “Some of our (regular) people like to get out a little later on the weekend and have breakfast a little later. We looked at this last year, but we had so much going on we waited.”
Burnett’s passion for baking took shape in her high school years, which were followed be a year of technical training. She said she has always enjoyed cooking for her family so working at the deli was right up her alley. She recalled when she was little how she and her cousin, Sarah Lineberry, liked to make mud pie wedding cakes, decorated with dandelions.
Baking and wedding cake creations were in her future in later years, thanks to the example set by Carroll County High School Teacher Pat Burkholder. She said she also enjoys cooking for family and is proud her small children “eat about everything” including mussels. The surprise for her when she came to the Gap became how to get the most out of a small kitchen.
“People don’t realize the stuff we make in-house,” Burnett said. ” When I’m doing something with food I have to make it pretty and I have more patience. I like to see peoples’ faces when they see something (brought out to them) which looks good. I like to see their eyes go wide, especially kids. I like to make people happy. You learn it because the place is so small (30 seats inside with 16 seats outside on the patio). I love the locals.”
Burnett theorized the choice to keep the operation intimate is one of the ingredients keeping the deli special. Burnett said owners Nicole and Travis Bash wholeheartedly support the restaurant’s focus on local, and being a family-owned, family-oriented restaurant since they bought the deli two years ago. She also praised the staff.
“They are a great bunch. They work well together. You have to get in the flow in such a small (kitchen) space. It’s a great group of people. Nicole and Travis are the most giving people. They’ve created an opportunity here for those in the area. It’s not only the jobs, but it’s a nice place to come and eat that’s not huge and loud.”
The deli maintains a Facebook page to supplement its ongoing relationship with the community. Burnett said the staff (with numbers about seven) all know “the regulars,” many of which call ahead so they get their order filled when they have only a 30-minute lunch break.
“They know they can count on us. It’s very cozy. People walk in and say ‘woah,’ at first,” said Burnett. “It’s tight but we have utilized every inch of space. It helps. The quality of food is fresh. We have no room to store a week of stuff. People don’t realize how fast we go through stuff. I believe the quality and freshness of food make a big difference. The simplest of items taste so much better.”
Burnett said she has often seen restaurants grow bigger only to lose what is special about them and their menus. She said the size of the deli doesn’t directly correlate to the volume of business.
“I started here as my first job after I had my daughter Kaebry,” said Assistant Manager Sarah Broyles, who is marking her fourth year at the restaurant. “The location was right for me and there was a hiring sign hung up at the front.”
Broyles said she has two associate degrees and is working toward a bachelor’s degree in human resources. She indicated the firm’s significance as something special to regulars, helping drive her into the direction of human resources.
“We know the majority of people who come here every week,” Broyles said. “If we recognize their cars we put their order in before they walk through the door.”
She agreed with Burnett that the “Tiny House” like kitchen demands a friendly, cooperative staff where cross training is a survival skill and not a luxury. She pointed to the amount of alumni of the deli who say if they need help to just call them in.
“I think when they go on they realize this was a pretty good place to work. Everybody has such respect for each other. There’s not that cook-server mentality I’ve seen in other places.” said Broyles. “There’s something surprising every single day. Four years in, and I still will be surprised regularly.”
Broyles said she finds a certain amount of humor in the fact she didn’t cook before working at the deli, where she learned to prepare orders, and learned to cook in the process.
“We’re really happy to have the local support we do. Every time someone out of the area who owns property here visits tells us how much they appreciate us knowing them and their food (favorites). They don’t get that in Raleigh and Harrisonburg.”
She noted one couple from England will send her messages on Facebook telling her when they are in the area on vacation and asking about hours so they can plan when to come to the deli.
“It’s hard to not be open with this fast pace and this open a kitchen,” Broyles said. “I think an open kitchen adds to it though.”
David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on [email protected]