Jeanne Poland has been in the food business for 38 years. In 1974, she moved to Mount Vernon to attend Mount Vernon Bible College. Three years marrying in her then-husband Mike Corrigan in 1975, Poland started working at the Pirates’ Cove in Gambier with her in-laws.
“I was terrified,” Poland said. “They couldn’t cook. Either one of them. I mean, I’m Italian and they were going to open a pizza shop and had no idea what they were doing.”
But thanks to hard work, great food and hungry student body, Poland and her family thrived at the Cove — so much so that they bought the Gambier Deli (then named the Village Deli) together in 1991.
At time the Deli was a different establishment completely — the shop mostly functioned as an alcohol vendor. Lines to buy beer and wine would be out the door, but almost nobody came for the sandwich menu, which consisted of only six items.
“We realized these sandwiches needed help,” Poland said. “They were little, puny things and there wasn’t much there.”
At this point, the family took it upon themselves to expand the menu. They journeyed far and wide, from Columbus to New York, to study the great masters of the deli arts: Katzinger’s, Zabar’s, you name it. In the end, it paid dividends. The Deli’s menu greatly expanded to include most of the items that they serve today.
In 2002, Poland’s family made the decision to leave the food business and sell the Cove. Yet Poland stayed on as the owner of the deli.
Once the market came under new ownership and added more alcohol to its inventory, Poland felt free to move the coolers that once contained beer and wine in order to open up space for seating. Additionally, she focused on further expanding the sandwich menu and developing more catering.
“It turns out that it was the best thing we could have done,” Poland said. “Business has been increasing. And then I added breakfast all day eight years ago — I couldn’t believe how business exploded after that.”
Through the efforts of both Poland and her family, the six-item menu has increased to over 80, items with names like “Down & Out in Gambier” (Poland’s personal favorite, a bagel with tomato, cream cheese, red onion and lox) and “Senior Dating a Freshperson” (corned beef, turkey, Swiss, coleslaw and Russian dressing on pumpernickel). Many of the names have come from students.
“On alumni weekend, these kids will come back and see their names up on the board after over a decade, and they love it,” Poland said. “They’re just thrilled.”
Poland attributes much of her success since gaining sole ownership of the Deli to her husband, Stuart Poland, whom she married in 2004.
“He’s everything I’m not,” Poland said. “He’s got the gift of gab. He can talk to people who have been standing in line forever and make them laugh so much they forget how long they waited. Oh, and he’s a fabulous cook,” she added.
Before he started working at the Deli, Stuart had held variety of jobs, including a five year tenure in public affairs at NASA.
According to Poland, she had known him for much of her time in Mount Vernon. “He actually dated my ex-sister-in-law for a while. It’s strange how we ended up together. It really was.”
Jeanne Poland actually attended college at the Mount Vernon Bible College, not Mount Vernon Nazarene University.
Descriptions of Jeanne Poland’s marriage and start at the Pirate’s Cove have been restated in order to improve clarity.
The Deli does not have a license for liquor, only for beer and wine.
Stuart Poland did not hold a staff position at his parents’ store.
Numerous changes have been made to the narrative in order to put more emphasis on the collective effort of Poland’s extended family in shaping the Deli into what it is today.
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