Lowcountry residents know where to go when they want a hearty, made-to-order sandwich reminiscent of what you’ll find at a New York deli.
With favorites like “The Carolina” and “The Club Calhoun,” East Bay Deli has become a household name in South Carolina since opening its first store Sept. 11, 2001 at 334 East Bay St. Now with 11 shops in the Charleston and Columbia markets, founders Daniel Jaicks, Charles Lee Jr. and marketing director Joanna Jaicks are approaching their 20th anniversary in September with plans for more growth. The City Paper caught up with Joanna Jaicks to hear more about what the last two decades have been like at the successful sandwich shop.
City Paper: What do you think made East Bay Deli a success early on?
Joanna Jaicks: You had your sub shops, but there were no actual delis. It did kind of have a lot to do with the fact that no one else was really doing that. My husband, being from New York originally, he knows what real delis are like, and there’s a significant portion of people from the North that move down to this area. He just kind of felt like that was a missing component that we could put down here that could have a little bit of a Southern flair.
CP: How much has the menu changed in the last 20 years?
JJ: We have a couple of the original menus, and we have things on that menu that we still have to this day. Like “The Citadel”, which is our No. 1 selling sandwich, and “The Chief Reuben.” Those have been on our menu from the beginning, and then, obviously, the menu has grown since then.
CP: Day one must have been even more memorable given the tragedy that occurred. What do you remember about that day?
JJ: My husband said what he remembers is that Muzak, which was the music system we used when we first opened, switched over to play the national anthem, and he had never heard them do anything like that before.
I actually worked at the deli for a few months to try to get it off the ground, and of course, that was a very insane and crazy day. What I remember most is people coming in and everyone seemed dazed. We had a radio playing because we didn’t have TVs yet and everyone was listening for updates.
CP: When did expansion become part of the conversation?
JJ: Originally when we opened up the first store, there were no plans to have more than one. You just don’t know how it’s going to go. A few years in, we were doing well enough with the first one to the point where we were like maybe we should do a second one. And we did; it was actually on Market Street. We had that open for a couple of years, but that one did not do well because there was no parking. So we closed that one, but then we opened up our third one in North Charleston in 2006 or 2007. We were getting ready to open one in Mount Pleasant, and we closed that second one in downtown Charleston, and we transferred all those assets to the Mount Pleasant store.
CP: After opening the newest East Bay Deli in Cayce, S.C., in June, there are now 11 locations. How has this changed operations?
JJ: Because of the size that we have expanded to, and now because we’re in two different markets, we’ve grown to the point where we have a director of operations for each market. We have an area supervisor for each market as well, and they oversee the management and everything. It’s gotten to the point where we had to add those roles that are over the [store] general managers.
CP: How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact East Bay Deli?
JJ: We’re really blessed because we already had a website — we’ve had it for years — and we already had online ordering in place and delivery. I know that a lot of places were scrambling because they didn’t have a lot of that setup and we did, so we basically just continued on. The only thing we had to do that was easy to implement was just adding curbside, so we really didn’t miss a beat.
CP: Future plans?
JJ: The plan is to continue to add stores. I don’t know how many that will be, but they do plan on opening some more. I think we’re looking at one or two more sort of in the Charleston area, and eventually, we might look upstate in Greenville. We don’t want it to be like a Walgreens or something where there’s one on every corner, but we have sort of our own process of looking at areas.