To read more about Jennifer’s journey (from rags to… well, nicer dish towels), click on each subject title below to display text and photos.
Jen’s Food History…
My mom rolled her own puff pastry dough for croissants, baked her own bread, and made most everything from scratch, so joining her in the kitchen was second nature. By the time I was 10, I’d compiled my first construction paper cookbook, which I gave to mom for Mother’s Day. My baking efforts were successful—relatives told me I should start my own pie-making business.
At age 14, while friends enjoyed romance novels, I read up on yoga and nutrition. An undiagnosed low thyroid condition left me wiped out, although I didn’t know the cause at the time. But it spurred me to experiment with various diets, in efforts to control my weight and improve my health. Vegetarian foods intrigued me- I ate raw foods, yogurt, and wheat germ. I even tried a macrobiotic diet, practically living on brown rice alone. My approach to health was misguided, but I learned what didn’t work…
Betty Crocker Honeymoon
Married to my husband Tom at age 17, I took my Betty Crocker Cookbook with me on our 5-week honeymoon, scouring it for recipes as we traveled across the country in an old van. We fancied ourselves opening our own restaurant someday.
After our cross-country trip, I settled into waitressing in our little town of Rochester, just outside of Detroit.
A bit of urban homesteading helped us survive on our paltry paychecks. I began canning tomatoes from our organic garden, pickling cucumbers, sprouting alfalfa seeds, dehydrating fruits, and culturing yogurt.
My goal: use simple ingredients to prepare healthy meals from scratch.
I learned the ropes of the food industry as I continued working at various restaurants. At a friend’s suggestion, I took over a small, local vegetarian burrito business in 1982. It was a cottage industry indeed; I made hundreds of burritos, sandwiches, and salads daily in my “cottage,” delivering to health food stores in the Bay Area.
The business outgrew that cottage within three years. Tom quit his day job, and we moved into a retail space as “The New Deli Café.”
The New Deli
The small plaza in which the café was located also accommodated “That Pet Shop.” We imagined the potential banter:
“Have you tried The New Deli?”
“Where is the new deli?”
“By That Pet Shop.”
Where’s that pet shop?!”
We were intent on providing locals with a new style of delicatessen food that included more vegetarian fare and plenty of homemade soups and salad dressings from scratch. So it seemed appropriate to call ourselves “The New Deli.” In 1985 in Pinole, this style of food did seem “new”!
Tom helped run the café, doing everything except the cooking. He delivered wholesale sandwiches, kept the books, and maintained supplies. Within a few years, we were raising two boys as well. Our sons grew up at the café, crafting forts from boxes and decorating the back room with art drawn on sandwich paper. Always one to create wholesome menu items, I offered food at the café that we as a family would want to eat. We ate well.
Since 1985, we’ve been making New Deli recipes from scratch economically, using wholesome ingredients. We manage the workload by using streamlined methods (and avoiding anything too labor-intensive). It’s a great business model- making things from scratch allows deli staff to be productive (there’s always something to do!).
As the staff carries on the tradition of making and serving delicious meals to local patrons, I continue with my vision: To encourage others in taking steps toward healthier cooking. In the process, family and friends are well-fed, and memories are created.
Grateful for God’s many blessings, my hope is that you, too, will be blessed.
Learning to Sit at the Grateful Table
I have a lot to be grateful for. God has been working in my life even when I was working against it.
I was somewhat consumed with a poet’s angst from an early age, becoming a rebellious teen who felt at odds with society.
As I “matured,” I sought counsel from the I Ching and other forms of Eastern religion. I tried to control my life through various disciplines, yet never gained any peace.
At age 38, I began to hear the gospel message of God’s love. I was transformed. I left behind an old life and finally became happy where I was at. God was in control and had a plan for my life.
Now, I seek to share the love I’ve received. I feel truly blessed, and eternally grateful.
(See “How This Happened” for more details on Jen’s story!)
and the Kitchen Sink.
Fresh Food = Fresh Start
I love fresh fruits, veggies and whole foods; not so much junk foods. Except for a bit of greasy, crispy, salty deep-fried chicken on very rare occasions. Yes, I have to drink a half gallon of water afterward, but it’s worth it. Once in awhile.
We save 5-gallon buckets of veggie scraps daily at The New Deli; I add that to a compost pile at our house… It eventually gets worked into the garden, which is home to twenty-some fruit and nut trees.
My husband and I walk to work; The New Deli is three minutes away, on foot.
I can’t grow tomatoes. I’ve tried everything! It’s our San Francisco fog. Or, my thumb’s not green enough.
I used to “party.” Now, every day’s a party!
Family is a joy, Jesus rocks, and grandkids are awesome.
Man of (Not) Many Words
Most anyone that comes into the deli has probably had Tom ring them up. He’s the calculating genius behind the scenes too. The deli might’ve been Jen’s brain-child, but it’s Tom’s brains that keep it going! (Well, plus a lot of elbow-grease and man-hours…)
But how did this happen? Tom has other talents. Music’s been a focal point; according to Tom, he “played in several unsuccessful bands”. It was fun while it lasted.
College degrees, corporate life, and white collar work never enticed Tom and Jen to join the ranks of most successful folk, but an intriguing start-up (“The New Deli”) inspired them to contribute to the community in a unique way. Going on thirty-plus years at this cafe, the man of few words continues on, inexplicably blessed.