COVID Creativity - Reel Deal Deli
Owner: David Collise
Business Name: Reel Deal Deli
Business Website: Facebook.com/reeldealdeli
Industry: Restaurant / hospitality
Location: Charlestown, NH
SBDC Advisor: Vardhan Bajpai
What is your business? What do you do?
Reel Deal Deli is a traditional deli, using locally sourced and house-made ingredients. “We make as much as we possibly can from scratch—breads, English muffins, meats, even our own mustards and mayo.”
When the shutdown began, what was the immediate impact on your business?
In April, David was planning to launch his new deli in Charlestown when it got stopped at the launchpad thanks to the pandemic. Before the shut-down, remodeling the deli space in a former gas station had an April target date, but no one was available to do the work, and getting the materials was also a challenge.
How were you able to adapt (or not) during the first few months of the pandemic?
“I needed everything, so I built it out myself, from scratch,” David said, crediting his years of working as a chef in the industry to helping him understand how to set up his space.
Reel Deal Deli successfully opened July 22. “In all, I was set back about three months from the original open date,” David notes.
Once the doors opened, the reception from locals was “pretty great,” with some making a 45-minute drive from Dartmouth just to get his sandwiches. “They must be liking what I do if they travel that far to get it,” he said.
He’s gotten phenomenal reviews on his steadily growing social media accounts, and he’s counting on his loyal customers to keep coming through what he knows will be a slow winter. By late summer, his customers numbered 80 on a typical Friday, but in mid-November, that had trickled down to 26. He says it’s still pretty difficult with daily changes in foot traffic and an immediate future that looks uncertain in terms of the virus.
Once businesses were able to open in NH, how did you adapt your business, services, products, and/or physical space?
“Luckily, my space had been built out to operate as mostly take-out anyway—it’s a deli,” David said, adding that he has a tiny space with very few indoor seats. His salads and sandwiches are individually wrapped in to-go containers. He has sold about 800 of his very popular breakfast burritos, featuring siracha and eggs from a farmer down the road.
Will you continue the changes and adaptations you have made once concerns over COVID-19 are behind us? Are you planning to institute more changes in the near future?
David says he plans to do whatever it takes to stay open through the winter.
Are you collaborating with other businesses, municipalities, organizations, etc. for the first time or differently than in the past? If so, in what ways?
He works with many local farmers and appreciates consultations he gets from his former employer, the Copper Fox Restaurant in Vermont. “They were here with me on opening day, helping to cook and run the front of the house.
If you have employees, how has your workforce been affected?
The Reel Deal Deli currently employees a full-time chef (a friend of David’s) and one part-time person. He is helping train a high school student whose culinary program at Fall Mountain School shut down.
How are you communicating with customers?
David communicates with his customers daily, whenever he takes orders over the phone or receives a walk-in customer, while the majority of his marketing is done on his Facebook page (he started early too, even providing construction updates and videos prior to the deli’s opening). David has also been able to capitalize on an online fan base that he built up while pursuing his other passion, competitive bass fishing, a passion which inspired the play-on-words in the business name, Reel Deal Deli. He still competes in tournaments, traveling throughout New England as a sponsored angler, turning followers from the fishing community into fans of the Reel Deal Deli on both Facebook and Instagram, he says.
How has SBDC helped you and your business, especially in the last year?
“SBDC and Vardhan have been a tremendous help,” he said. “I am a chef and I know food really well, but they helped a lot with the business end of things and getting started. They filled in all the gaps in what I didn’t know.” David says he stays in touch with his advisor about once a month, over Zoom, and they talk about ways he can keep his business going strong.
This client story is part of NH SBDC's ongoing collection of COVID Creativity stories about businesses surviving and thriving during COVID-19.