10 Questions with Sal Bajalia of Pinegrove Market & Deli
1. Tell us about Pinegrove Market & Deli.
We're a family owned and operated business and have been for over 40 years. The original Pinegrove Market was built in the 1920's and was a butcher shop and grocery store. Our father bought the business in 1968 and about 12 years ago my brother Nader added the Deli. Today we focus on the Deli and selling the best dry aged beef in the city.
Our family also owns and operates two other restaurants in the city: Pine Grove Deli & Grill in the Times-Union building on Riverside, and Bones Cafe in the Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute building in San Marco. As a family enterprise we all kick in and share in the workload. Our desserts and sides that we serve at the Pinegrove Market & Deli are made by family members who run our other restaurants, for example.
2. What makes Pinegrove Market special?
It starts with our beef. We've been in the beef business for a long time and take great care and pride in our product. We are the last independently owned butcher shop in the city to sell dry aged beef. You really need to taste our beef to understand the difference between dry aged beef and what you find in local restaurants and grocery stores. Dry aged beef is much more flavorful and tender than regular beef.
At the Deli we focus on great food and customer service. It takes a long time to build up a loyal customer base like ours and if you don't deliver great food and great service people won't come back. But our business has been growing, so I think that's a sign that our hard work and focus are paying off.
3. What sort of food do you serve at the Deli?
We're known for our great deli fare but we also have a great breakfast, lots of sandwich options, soups and classic desserts such as cobblers and bread pudding. All home made.
4. What would you recommend for someone new to the Deli?
The very first sandwich we made at the Deli was our Cuban. It's a real popular sandwich and a great place to start. Our burgers are also excellent. We grind our burger meat in-house and hand-patty them fresh every day. Our Cubans and our burgers are our signature items. It's hard for a lot of people to get beyond these two, but if they can, our chicken salad sandwich is really phenomenal and I'd recommend that as a third option.
I'd also like to add that for newcomers to the Deli we offer a complimentary assortment of our side dishes so they can sample some of the range of what we offer. These are completely free. Just let us know you're a first-time visitor. We package up items like our tabouleh, hummus, some of our salads and few other things. They can take these home or eat them while they're here. We think that once you try some of our home made items it will really encourage you to come back.
5. And what would you recommend for someone who's been to the Deli a few times and is looking for something a little different?
That's actually a challenge for us. People love our Cuban and burger so much that they often stick to them and it's hard for us to get them to try something new. We have a lot of unique sandwiches that are invented by our customers, by me, by my brother and others in the family. I'd recommend that once you've tried the Cuban and the burger that you look at one of these sandwiches. There's a sandwich called the Stu that's very good. It's made with chicken salad, tabouleh, lettuce, tomato, onion, and provolone cheese, all loaded into a Cuban roll, then pressed and heated. It's really awesome. It's one of our best selling sandwiches in the Deli and if you like Cuban rolls and are looking for something more on the healthy but tasty side, then I'd recommend the Stu.
6. What's the most popular item?
It's a toss-up between the Cuban and our burger. They're both really big sellers. That's why I recommend that you start with these - then you can decide for yourself.
7. What's your favorite item?
My nickname is Sal, and I invented a sandwich called...The Sal Patty Melt! It's a steak burger with onions and pepperjack cheese all on sourdough bread. It's simple, but good. That's the way I like it.
8. Can you tell us a little about your background?
Like all my family I grew up in the business. After college I left to do my own thing for about 5 years, before coming back. I have to say that coming back to work in the business with my family has given me a real appreciation for how much I really enjoy it here. I couldn't be happier. Today I focus on the front side of the business - meeting customers, serving in the Deli and working on new ways to grow our business.
9. What sort of changes have you seen in people's tastes over the years?
Well, people always appreciate really good food, and that's why our meat business continues to grow. Although specific tastes are constantly changing I've noticed that people are moving towards fresher and healthier food. And through all the changes they're always looking for something new to try, so our menu is constantly evolving. We come up with new things and so do our customers. Sometimes they just ask us to customize a sandwich for them and it turns out to be a winner that we add to the menu.
10. Restaurants come and go but you've been around for decades and are still growing. To what do you attribute your success?
One thing I've learned in business is that hard work pays off. You also have to stick to what you know and always deliver a great product. That's the key. Focus and hard work. Service matters too. You need to treat your customers right if you want them to keep coming back. You can have great food but lousy service and your customers won't return. It takes both - great food and great service. And sticking to what you know and always doing it well. That's what we try to do.
11. What's next for Pinegrove Market & Deli?
We're working on our website so that we can sell our beef online. We think we have a great product that's unique and that our customers love. Making it easier for them to purchase our meats is the goal of our website. Beyond that, down the road...maybe another location. But if the online ordering really takes off that may keep us busy for a while. I'm really confident in my family and myself that we can keep growing in a positive direction. As long as we work hard and keep moving forward.