Ian Hartman McLaughlin admits that the decision to open Whistler's newest addition to Main Street, The Corner Deli, wasn't exactly altruistic.
"Honestly, and this is the real truth, because there's no classic deli in town, it was sort of a selfish decision," he explained. "We just wanted to eat good sandwiches, and if no one else was going to do it, by God, we would."
McLaughlin and his fellow owners—wife Jillian, and couple Jeremy and Lauren Poyntz—are already partnered on a Main Street business, the Be Beauty Spa & Tanning Salon, and when the former Olives on Tap space opened up below it, they decided to embark on a new venture that incorporated their collective obsession with sandwiches.
"All four of us, even before we were couples, we've always had a desire to have a sandwich shop in some capacity or another," McLaughlin said. "It's all of our favourite food."
The Corner Deli, which had its soft opening last week, will serve up a selection of classic, New-York-style deli sandwiches—along with a few less traditional options. In McLaughlin's mind, the piece de resistance will be the Montreal smoked meat sandwich, which will use imported meat from La Belle Ville's legendary fixture, Lester's Deli in Outremont—the restaurant's only ingredient not sourced from around the region.
"All of us come from the east side of Canada and we always travelled to Montreal a lot and wanted a good Montreal smoked meat sandwich that had the proper amount of meat on it, piled high on rye, with mustard and a pickle on the side. Classic," he said. "From the customers we had yesterday from Montreal, apparently we nailed it. But, between you and I, I already know we did because I love it. It passed all of our taste tests."
Also on the menu is a BLT; a massive, two-handed Italian sandwich ("You're a champion if you make it through that sandwich in one sitting," McLaughlin said); a Vietnamese-style chicken or vegan bahn mi; a veggie sandwich (which can also be made vegan); and a classic grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly for the budget conscious. The deli will also soon begin offering a rotating sandwich, salad and soup special of the week. With prices ranging from $5 to $14, McLaughlin said keeping prices low for locals was a main priority.
"Honestly, we just want to make good, affordable sandwiches for everyone in Whistler," he said. "I've been struggling in this town for 12 years, and there's been many times where I wasn't sure whether I should go spend too much money at the grocery store or go try to stomach some McDonald's because that's all I could afford at the time.
"We want to compete directly against McDonald's or Subway. If you can afford a sub or a combo from McDonald's, you can afford a sandwich from The Corner Deli."
Originally slated to open in May, a last-minute flood ended up delaying things by nearly two months.
"That set us back a great deal," McLaughlin said. "Insurance has partially covered it, and then it just started a train of red tape, bureaucratic roadblocks, insurance claims and restoration companies that took a long time in our space—all sorts of roadblocks, one after the other, and finally we actually had to go and pull our own permits and contract out the job ourselves, which was the fastest route. It was the more expensive route, but we needed to open."
The timing of the flood was such that a baby the Poyntz were expecting ended up being born just days before last week's soft opening.
"Jeremy and Lauren are valiantly juggling an infant, living in Pemberton, and two businesses, so I'm gladly stepping up to the plate—and who knows how many days I'll be working in a row. But you know what? That's what it's all about," McLaughlin said.
It's no secret that the restaurant business is a tough one, and doubly so in Whistler, where finding staff has been a significant challenge for years now. It makes you wonder if you'd have to be crazy to take on such a venture.
For McLaughlin, the short answer to that question is: Yes.
"The chips are already stacked against you right from the start, so I think you have to have a few loose screws to even jump into this sort of thing," he said. "But I think it's a necessary part of a personality to have success in this business. If it was easy, everyone would do it."
The Corner Deli, located at 4368 Main Street, is expected to have its grand opening this weekend. For more information, check out the restaurant's Facebook page.