After the fire, the Village Deli's first customers anxious for breakfast and tradition
By Andy Wittry
The sun hasn’t risen yet, leaving Kirkwood Avenue in partial darkness.
A street lamp illuminates the entrance to the Village Deli, reopening at 7 a.m. — 82 days after a fire closed the restaurant indefinitely.
Owner Bob Costello heard rumors from his son, a freshman at IU, that some of the restaurant’s loyal fans might begin lining up at ?6:45 a.m.
Twenty minutes until open. A waitress exits the Village Deli to put salt and pepper shakers on the outdoor tables. She disagrees with the rumors, saying she doesn’t expect a line to form outside until late ?morning.
A Bloomington Police Department patrol car drives by followed by a bus, but for the most part the streets were empty.
Sophomores Jordan Keener, Jack Nugent and Hunter Foist are the first ones in line, destined to be the restaurant’s first post-fire customers.
Matt Wernert, Bryan Hunt and Nick Loughlin join the trio curbside, waiting for the deli’s doors to open. The group of six are the first customers to dine at the Village Deli after the devastating fire in ?January.
“This was our staple last year,” ?Nugent said.
Nugent and his friends on his freshman dorm floor came to the deli regularly last school year as a way to get to know each other better. Now sophomores, the students all live in different locations on campus, but Nugent said they keep the ?tradition alive.
“This is the place where we’ll meet on Sunday morning,” he said. “It’s been the place for us and it’s been hard while it’s been gone.”
When Keener heard about the Village Deli catching on fire Jan. 25, he initially thought it was a joke. Nugent didn’t know how to describe his reaction to learning about the fire.
“We didn’t know if it was completely burned down or just part of it, so it was scary at first,” Keener said. “But at least it wasn’t too bad, I guess.”
For Keener, the Village Deli is Saturday mornings in the fall before IU football games and a place to reconvene on Sunday, take inventory of the night before and share stories.
Both sophomores have a soft spot in their stomachs for the deli’s food.
What would be the kitchen’s first order Friday morning?
“Probably the Power Breakfast,” Keener and Nugent said without hesitation.
“It’s the go-to,” Nugent said.
A few minutes before 7 a.m. an older couple strolls down Kirkwood and wait patiently by the deli’s front doors.
Costello, seeing the anxious customers outside, unlocks the door promptly at 7 a.m. and returned to his post at the front desk.
A waitress, Amanda, welcomes the group of six sophomores and leads them to a table in the corner of the newer side of the deli.
Amanda and a waiter make the group pose for an iPhone photo to commemorate the Village Deli’s first patrons since it re-opened.
The group turns and smiles, a scene that will be forever frozen in time and hang in a small picture frame somewhere in the deli in the near future.
“So worth it,” Matt Wernert said to the table after the wait staff walked away. “We got first customer recognition.”
A woman walks in the restaurant’s front door with an ear-to-ear grin on her face.
“Ya-ay,” she said excitedly to Costello. “We’re back.”
“Let us know what you think of the changes,” he said.
“Did they really renovate?” Foist said.
The group decides the Village Deli repainted parts of its interior, but the sophomores can’t find too many differences in the restaurant.
“We’ve been giving the building a facelift,” Costello said previously. “Painting, cleaning, really detailed cleaning that we’re not able to do when we’re open.”
The eatery looks newer, cleaner and fresher, but feels the same, which is exactly what Costello wanted. The menu and the staff, for the most part, is the same as it was in January.
Costello said customers will be pleasantly surprised with the changes, as minor as they are.
“I wouldn’t want it to be different,” Wernert said. “That’s why I come here. You want to be able to look across and see an entirely different restaurant.”
Wernert was of course referring to the two halves of the deli.
A few years after Costello bought the Village Deli, he expanded the restaurant, taking over what was once the Red Chair Bakery and Ben & Jerry’s. The move allowed the deli to increase the size of its kitchen and raise its number of seats from 85 to 215.
“I think what they’ll be most surprised about is what we call the ‘vintage side’ of the restaurant,” Costello said. “It really is vintage. We went back to the original structure. I hope that people are excited to be back and to get whatever their favorite meal may be.”
Despite the long layoff, the sophomores know their favorite meals by heart. They make a near-unanimous decision to not consult their menus when ordering food, but Nugent had to double-check his menu to make sure he got his order right.
“I got five hours of sleep,” Hunt said after Amanda finished taking the table’s breakfast orders. “Am I mad about it? Not at all.”
Hunt wasn’t the only one in attendance who was short on sleep.
Another waitress on the opposite end of the room was making small talk with an elderly gentleman who was sitting alone at a two-person table.
“I was nervous, I haven’t had to wake up this early since,” she said before trailing off. She said she woke up on the hour every hour the night before, because waking up for a 7 a.m. breakfast shift hasn’t been part of the routine for the deli’s staff since January.
Amanda brought out the table’s food. The damage?
A few Power Breakfasts, a cinnamon roll pancake, a southwest omelet, a three-egg omelet and a Hoosier Scramble.
Conversation subsides considerably as the friends dig in to their first Village Deli breakfast in almost three months, but they still find time in between bites to catch up and share stories from the night before.
They discuss their latest games of NBA 2k15, how to repair a hole made in a dry wall which may or may not have been caused during a game of the former, financial accounting, summer jobs and a glow-in-the-dark beer bong seen at a party.
“It’s good to be back,” Wernert said.
He sizes up his eggs, skewers them with his fork and takes a bite.
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