by Mallory Moad
“This is a hopeful sign.”
Those are the words of Bryce Cannell. He and his wife, Jennifer, were enjoying sandwiches and colorful pasta salads at the grand opening of the Sunnyside Delicatessen. The closure of this iconic southeast Fresno eatery in March, 2020, was the last straw in a long series of pandemic-related shutdowns, uncertainties, and disappointments for this pair of local educators. That all changed on a Saturday afternoon in early September when the doors opened again in a celebration of friends, family, community, and comfort food.
“We are going to buy that deli!” Annette Husak and her husband, Dan, made this announcement to their children (Megan, Alexis and Aaron) in mid-April, 2020. The decision was reached after reading a story in the Fresno Bee that talked about not only grieving regular customers but the building being up for sale as well. And so began a nail-biter of a journey that involved realtors, banks, zoom meetings, competitive bidding, and – finally – ownership of the Sunnyside Delicatessen.
“The scariest thing – well, not so much scary, but intimidating thing – is being the boss!” In what sounds like a scenario from a movie, Megan Husak returned to the Central Valley to run Sunnyside Delicatessen after having lived in New York City for seventeen years. “Several years ago I made a plan to move home after the 2021 school year,” she explains. “Right now, my teaching career is on hold. I loved it, but this new adventure is going to keep me busy for awhile.” She found the reality of opening the deli to be exciting: overseeing deliveries, interviewing and hiring staff, and crossing things off a never-ending to-do list.
“This is a brand new adventure – we haven’t done this before!” Lisa Husak will be switching gears from full-time mom to working with the family at the deli and she’s OK with that. “Thankfully it doesn’t feel like work. Most of the time the kids get to be around and involving them in the business has been a lot of fun.”“Meeting all the raving fans of the Sunnyside Delicatessen has been exciting and a little frightening,” says Aaron Husak. This is a place with a long history and more devotees than Elvis, and the Husak family felt the pressure of maintaining its quality and appeal. There were many requests on social media to keep the menu the same, which have been honored, but a few changes have been made, too. The turkey/bacon/avocado sandwich and fabulous salads will return and have been joined by a Reuben sandwich and fries. Locally produced wines and craft beers have been added, along with an expanded selection of breads from Max’s Bistro. The dining area has been brightened up with new lights and brighter colors; the deli’s logo smiles from a yellow wall, courtesy of Natalie Peterson and a charming hand-lettered menu board by Nettie Niles shines behind the counter. An original mural by Dan Husak’s sidekick, Dennis Runge, adds a touch of pizzazz.
“Fresh paint, mopped floors, sounds of a circular saw…so many similarities to a theater production.” Dan and Annette Husak are no strangers to the performing arts. Along with Erica Marderosian, they are the founders of Sanger’s Blossom Trail Players, a summer theatre company. Dan encountered a number of things that preparing to open a deli and a stage show have in common. There’s teamwork, a compatible cast, time, and expense. “We have spent a lot of time preparing for the deli to have a smooth opening transition, just as you would with a play.” And on September 4, it was curtain up!
“It hit the spot!” That’s how Boun Mee Lee enthusiastically described his satisfying lunch of Reuben sandwich, “the works” sandwich, macaroni salad, and potato salad. He was one of over 200 friends, family members, co-workers, and long-time customers who came to eat, drink, and be really, really happy. The lines at the counter were long (25 people when I arrived), but no one was upset. There was too much positive energy going around to be cranky.“This is as good as I remember!” Melissa Bui and Michelle Inouye were spending some quality time in a quality atmosphere. Best pals for a long, long time, they were reconnecting in person after eight years of virtual visits. They used to frequent Sunnyside Delicatessen on a regular basis when they both lived and worked nearby. On this delightful day, they reminisced about those times and exuberantly praised each other, their friendship and the food “Do you like my shoes?” There were a lot of kids in attendance and Dominic, age four-ish, was one of them. They laughed, drew pictures for the coloring contest, ate fries, posed for photos, threw pennies into the fountain on the patio, and carried on a discussion about a very small pair of sneakers. As a family owned and operated business, kids are not only welcome at Sunnyside Delicatessen. Their presence – and conversation – is appreciated.
So the beloved Sunnyside Delicatessen is back in all its glory, but the Husak family has taken it further than delicious sandwiches. With ambition, dedication, and plenty of love, they have returned a sense of community to the neighborhood. It’s a gift, a place to reestablish friendships, make new ones, and just have a good time. And if it happens to feel like family, that’s to be expected.
My name is Mallory Moad, and I believe with an open heart, hope can be found in a sandwich.
Sunnyside Delicatessen is located at 5691 East Kings Canyon Road, just east of Clovis Avenue. You can visit them on Facebook for the menu, hours of operation, daily specials, and a video of artist Natalie Peterson at work.