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Gnomes, Beards, Paninis

Downtown Grand Rapids is about to get another layer of delectable delights sandwiched among the folks currently dwelling, working, and soon, dining, at 38 Commerce Ave. Two Beards Deli, scheduled to open this November, seeks to fill a culinary void and serve an ample dose of whimsy, while filling your gullet.
Restaurateur Scott Schulz, the man behind the popular Cherry Deli and former 4th Street Deli (which closed its doors over the summer), describes the launch of Two Beards Deli as a “new adventure.” He also happens to be one-half of the inspiration for the restaurant’s name. The other bearded man is Chris Sommerfeldt, a longtime manager who has helped run both of Schulz’s other ventures and will manage Two Beards Deli.  After the new name stuck, “we started brainstorming and started thinking about gnomes,” says Schulz. "We didn’t want it about us, so we fictionalized it. We’re just two dudes.” Two dudes with well-kempt facial hair, leaving the unruly stuff to the guys in pointy hats. In fact, a pair of wooden, chainsaw-cut gnome sculptures crafted near Traverse City will flank the entrance.
Two Beards Deli will feature the same epic menus and equally grandiose sandwiches found at the other eateries, plus a whole slew of new offerings aimed at downtown denizens. Once open, business begins at a yawning 7 a.m. to offer breakfast and gourmet coffee drinks, both new elements for Schulz. “We have really tried to look at what people need,” says Schulz. “There are really limited…breakfast places downtown. Are you going to walk into a high end hotel to get breakfast?”
Morning meal options will vary from fresh fruit and home style granola, made on-site, to pastries and paninis stuffed with ingredients like egg or tofu, along with the usual veggies and condiments. Savory turnovers and quiches will also top the menu, including a French toast sandwich. The planning has primarily focused on “stuff that we can put out really fast,” says Sommerfeldt, while also paying homage to the established traditions Schulz has created within his restaurants.
The 100 or so sandwiches available, some new and many brought over from their run at 4th Street Deli, are all named after beards and the famous fellows who wore them (it will have to be determined whether any prominent bearded ladies make the menu). Think Leo Tolstoy or the Fu Manchu, although mutton chops didn’t make the cut as lamb won’t be served.
To augment the dining experience, an espresso and coffee bar serving local beans is in the works. “We are going to do a lot of flavored styles of coffee…French roast, vanilla, butter cream,” says Schulz. “One of our employees [with a coffee background] has shown a big interest in helping us design a menu.” Various suppliers are being considered, all local. “Fulton is a busy street that people don’t want to cross,” says Shulz, noting the lack coffeehouses in the near vicinity.
After operating 4th Street Deli for about three years, the company that owned the property gave Schulz the option of leaving before the lease was over for a number of financial reasons. “It seems like maybe we did something wrong, which we didn’t,” he says, noting that Two Beards Deli was already in the works well before they vacated. “We made a really great run at it and the staff did a fantastic job." While the restaurant gained success during those years and was popular with area office workers on both sides of the river, it was tricky to get bodies through the door on off hours. Neighborhood business wasn’t enough to keep the deli open on holidays and weekends. But those who frequented 4th Street Deli were loyal and regaining the client base that was formed on the Westside is a big priority for Schulz, which is why many of the popular sandwiches will still be available at the new location, albeit with updated, beard-inspired names. The bearded pair, Schulz and Sommerfeldt, place high hopes for the new location, explaining that their business projections have a sunny outlook.
While his delis are distinct, it’s clear that Schulz sees the sandwich shops as part of a bigger whole, which overlap in many ways, from the giant menus and hearty meals, to loyal customers and dedicated staff. He can’t talk about Two Beards without mentioning 4th Street or Cherry Deli. “We have a regular at Cherry who tried every sandwich. He got to 56 and then we added thirty-some more,” Schulz joked. “Our theory is to never take away, but add to the menu…We want people that are happy. We try to accomplish that.”
Atmospheric amenities at the new location include gnome related tchotchkes, Wi-Fi and seating fit for gatherings like business meetings or coffee dates. Two Beards Deli is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise additional funds for seating, which is currently being crafted from wood reclaimed from local Ash Trees.
Audria Larsen is a freelance writer, entrepreneur and professional entertainer. Her work has appeared in Rapid Growth Media, Revue Magazine and Michigan Blue Magazine. She is the founder of Audacious Hoops, Grand Rapids’ original “hula” hoop company and produces a myriad of art and entertainment ventures.
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