Johnny and Amarinder Sandhu watched with joy as a large crowd filled their freshly opened International Deli and Café on July 4, marking what the duo hopes to be a strong presence in downtown Clayton.
A devastating fire in January 2004 that gutted the upper rooms of the Village Market building left owner Sam Sandhu, Johnny’s father, in a protracted legal battle with Farmers Insurance that forced the Sandhu family to lose income and inventory. The insurance battle was a classic case of the small customer battling the large corporate giants. The Sandhus sued Farmers Insurance.
“We had to make it work,” Johnny Sandhu said of the discussions with his father. “You’re fighting this lawsuit, and you see that you are running out of cash. This was our last stand against the insurance company.”
Not willing to give up but considering selling the property to fund the lawsuit, the family was encouraged when a decent settlement was finally made.
“We took a loss,” Johnny said, but the thought of ongoing litigation for another few years was too much. “We were trying to get back. We took the loss and decided to rebuild.”
The store had been empty and boarded up until January 2008, when the Village Market reopened. Sam Sandhu hoped the1,800 square feet on the Center Street side used for storage would be rented out as a deli. However, they were unable to find a qualified tenant, prompting Johnny to suggest another alternative.
Originally, the deli was located inside the Village Market itself, what Johnny calls a “small, antiquated deli.” There, he befriended an elderly German lady.
“Her name was Doris, and she taught me a lot of things,” he said. With her lessons and his experience, Johnny decided that it made more sense to expand and have the deli as a separate business.
“While we were rebuilding, I suggested to my father that we have the deli stand alone,” Johnny said. In part, Johnny was also considering a future where his father might retire and leave the market for others to run. That way, the deli would not be affected.
With lofty goals and high quality inventory including meats from Boar’s Head, there is another aspect of the deli that has not yet been publicized.
“I’m adding slowly,” Johnny said. “People come in and ask for things, and we are working towards that. We had to get a new loan on the building, even though we would have had no mortgage with the old one. We’re building slowly.”
One thing in the works is Indian dinners. “We’ve secretly started doing some,” Johnny said. “Mostly friends and family, just to get things right. We should have a full menu ready … in the next week or so.”
The international flavor appeals to Johnny – Portuguese sausages, Italian sausages, gourmet cheeses from around the world as well as the Indian foods that he knows so well. “I’d like to have a special event of the day,” Johnny said. “Serve certain foods from different countries.”
Johnny Sandhu, 32, came to the United States in 1991, passing through Pine Hollow Middle School and Clayton Valley High School before graduating in 1997. From there he went to Diablo Valley College and DeVry University to complete a business degree. He has worked with his father since 1991, learning the ropes of the retail business.
With all the new plans, it would seem easy to lose focus on what really matters to him. “The best part of the deli is when I see my customers enjoying the food,” Johnny said. “You know, with the slow economy, we were a little scared to open. But then the customers come in and say that it is the best they have had – you feel proud.”
Johnny says the location by the new downtown park is a great help for business. “Maybe we had to go through what we did to get to this point--next to one of the best places in town,” Johnny said. “The business traffic is phenomenal.”
He attributes that to the foresight of the city plan and the nature of Clayton people. “We have the greatest customers in this town,” he said. “They welcome you with open arms from day one. Where else would you find this?”
“Johnny’s International Deli has been a wonderful addition to the Town Center,” says City Manager Gary Napper, who not only has eaten at the new deli, but strongly endorses the pastrami on rye.
“Its reported success since opening is yet another barometer that our Clayton community is ready and willing to support additional eateries and commercial variety in its downtown."
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