Trio of restaurant employees teaming up to create new downtown deli, Italian soda shop

photo by: Chad Lawhorn

The Latchkey Deli, specializing in sandwiches made with house-prepared meats, plans to open in the old Papa Keno's location at 1035 Massachusetts St.

Sometimes I’ve been accused of making a real process of making a sandwich. (If the bread is the right size, a scoop shovel for the mayo is appropriate, I continue to contend.) But a new deli is coming to downtown that takes the process several steps further. It plans to prepare most of its own deli meat.

“That means house-made corned beef and pastrami,” Chetan Michie, one of the owners of the new Latchkey Deli, said.

It also will mean fresh roast beef, deli chicken, turkey, ham, bacon and other offerings, including at least four — New York deli, sweet, Kosher and spicy — types of fresh pickles.

Latchkey Deli is slated to go in the old Papa Keno’s location at 1035 Massachusetts St. (As a reminder, Papa Keno’s is moving to the old Jock’s Nitch location in the 800 block of Massachusetts, while Jock’s Nitch moved across the street.) Latchkey hopes to be open in mid-September to early October, depending on the approval of remodeling plans by the city.

The deli’s owners definitely are counting on their meat products to be a calling card for the business.

“It just made sense to us,” Michie said. “We know it will set us apart from established places downtown and across Lawrence.”

Plus, not everyone can make their own deli meats. Michie, though, learned how through several stints at Lawrence restaurants. He learned butchering skills while at downtown’s 715 restaurant, and he did a lot of charcuterie making and meat curing while at the former Lark a Fare restaurant.

Michie said he jumped at the chance to put those skills to use after teaming up with the husband-wife pair of Mike and Jen Young, who also are longtime employees of several Lawrence restaurants or bars. Mike lists Wheatfields Bakery, The Eldridge and Terrebonne among his stops, while Jen did a lot of work behind the bar at Frank’s North Star Tavern. Both, however, have long wanted to have a sandwich shop. Mike said there was something about how a sandwich comes together that makes it a great food.

“It is very universal, and there is nothing wrong with a good sandwich,” Mike said. “And the possibilities are unlimited.”

The Lawrence market, of course, is full of sandwich shops, but many of them are chains. Michie said he thought Lawrence would like the idea of a local shop, especially one that plans to get all of its meat from about a 100-mile radius.

In addition to using the hand-crafted deli meats for sandwiches, the shop also will sell the meat by the pound. Michie said he thought Lawrence diners soon would gain an appreciation for the often labor-intensive deli creations. A good pastrami, for instance, will take a minimum of 10 to 12 days to create. The curing of the meat — the process that really sets the flavors — and the slow smoking are what adds a lot of time, but it’s also what produces the payoff, Michie said.

“Caring about it is the big thing,” Michie said of the process. “There is a reason some of that mass-produced pastrami is so cheap. It just comes out of a big machine.”

The shop also will try to carve out a niche with Italian sodas. The deli plans to have at least eight varieties of Italian sodas, each featuring a homemade, often fruity syrup. The soda menu will grow as other fruits come into season.

Plans call for the restaurant to also serve liquor.

“It won’t be our main focus, though,” Mike said. “But if you want to add a shot of vodka to your Italian cherry soda, you are welcome to do so.”

Beer, wine and a few other cocktails also will be on the menu. The restaurant plans to be open for both lunch and dinner, and the trio of owners are hoping the city approves plans for a pick-up window to be added to the front of the store, which would allow people to order while standing on the Massachusetts Street sidewalk.

There is still a little uncertainty on whether that part of the plan will be approved, but uncertainty has become a way of life for those in the restaurant industry. The pandemic has been on the owners’ minds.

“It is incredibly terrifying, to be perfectly blunt,” Michie said.

But not enough to put the deli’s plans on hold.

“With the uncertainty of when this is going to end, we made the collective decision that the only way to go is through,” Michie said. “This is our time to open it up. We believe in this concept wholeheartedly. We believe Lawrence has the capacity to support us, and we believe we have the capacity to support Lawrence.”


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