Saturday, April 1, 2023

Locals lament the closing of Northside hotspot Detour Deli

Detour Deli opened in 2014 and specialized in sandwiches like Asian banh mis, Mexican tortas French baguettes, po’boys and clubs. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

WILMINGTON — “It was my neighborhood lunch spot,” Dumay Gorham said of Northside’s Detour Deli. The solo-standing brick building on Red Cross Street will no longer operate as a deli, according to owner Allister Snyder who announced Monday on Detour’s social media he would not be reopening its doors.

“I mean, nine times out of 10, when I walked up there, I bumped into somebody else I knew,” Gorham added.

Gorham works out of a studio around the corner from Detour. During breaks at Acme Art, where the artist hammers out metal works (such as the recognizable copper seahawk now living on UNCW’s campus), he said he would walk a few blocks over the 5th Avenue bridge to grab a bite at Detour. Even during Covid, when the restaurant operated as a pick-up window from its front door, Gorham maintained support.

“People were lined up outside and there was a really great chance I would see a friend waiting in line,” he said.

Gorham appreciated the friendliness of the owner and his head sandwich maker Shane Sharpe. Sharpe had been with the deli since it opened seven years ago.

“Shane and I bonded over our love of superhero and Marvel movies,” Gorham said. “We would talk about what was out, what they were releasing.”

Snyder announced on social media Monday that Sharpe was moving on. “We could hire and train new people, but I have had the desire to do something new myself and don’t want [to] hire with the intention of it being only temporarily,” Snyder wrote. “We made it through the last year, because of everyone that has supported us and we are extremely grateful.”

Snyder has been a staple in the Northside neighborhood since 2005. He lives there and operated Library Bodega, which sold fresh produce in the area, before opening Detour. He also is known for installing little free libraries to encourage literacy and reading. When Snyder renovated the historic brick building at 510 1/2 Red Cross St. and opened shop in 2014, he brought along a large paperback collection for diners to peruse while lunching.

“He had all kinds of books, from philosophy to Dilbert,” CFCC English professor Brian Weeks said. When school was happening in person, Weeks ate at Detour on the regular.

“I actually went there last week for the first time since Covid,” he said. “Even after a year, Allister asked me if I wanted ‘the usual’ with Sriracha mayo.”

Weeks’ usual was the Benjamin Cline — a Mexican torta made with avocado, lettuce, tomato, onion, jalapeño and refried black beans.

Detour focused only on sandwiches — a menu that, with its various combinations, could create upward of 50 flavors, served on French baguettes, as Nawlins’ po’boys, hoagies, clubs, and of course Asian banh mis. The latter could be ordered vegetarian (with jicama) or with other proteins, including one of many flavors of SPAM — jalapeño, regular, sweet and spicy.

Pine Valley Market owner Christi Ferretti said a SPAM banh mi was her day-off treat.

“Sometimes I would order two because I would eat the first one so fast, I would want the second one to savor,” she said. “It was just everything quirky and fun and delicious that made Detour, Detour — SPAM, kimchi, the bread, the balance of crunchy, fresh and pickled vegetables.”

Ferretti said while the food was always delicious, the combination of Detour’s vibe and Snyder’s ownership was the real draw. The owner brought a sense of fun to the neighborhood; one year for Halloween, he dressed up the building as Bob’s Burgers.

Snyder also expanded its reach beyond a deli and into a community hub. Pre-Covid, he would often screen films outside on the patio, as well as host live shows. He even founded Alt-Zalea Fest — an annual localized music festival that would take place at businesses in the Brooklyn Arts District on and around 4th Street during Azalea Fest weekend.

“Over the years, I’ve seen some fantastic shows there,” said Geilda Barnett, who touted Detour her “favorite sandwich shop in Wilmington.”

“I don’t have a favorite sandwich; I have four,” she said. “The only common element is baguette. Theirs apparently came in from Neomonde in Raleigh, so I’m at a bit of a loss on how I can recreate these sandwiches for myself, unfortunately.”

Barnett said she ordered Detour’s #9, the Ann Savage — pastrami, Swiss, mustard, pickles, pepper relish, jalapeños, purple onion —  throughout the Covid shutdown. It was her biweekly ritual while running errands.

The Ann Savage is served withpastrami, Swiss, mustard, pickles, pepper relish, jalapeños, purple onion on a Neomande French baguette. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Geilda Barnett)

“The Charcuterie Special has easily been my most constant go-to since they opened, and I don’t think that would’ve ever changed,” she added. “My other two favorites are the jicama and SPAM banh mi. Where the hell else can you choose between jicama or SPAM for the major component on a sandwich?”

Though Barnett eats meat and veggies, she laments Detour’s closing for vegetarians and vegans too. She said Snyder upped the game with interesting choices.

“There are a few restaurants thinking of vegans and vegetarians, making delicious, unique dishes,” she said. “[M]ost of the time vegetarian/vegan options are sadly predictable and boring to the point of being insulting.”

Around the corner on 4th Street at Flytrap, former bartender Joan Hoffmann admitted Detour was a major part of her diet’s food groups for years while working shifts at the craft brewery. Specifically, she had an affinity for the Tom Neal — also Gorham’s favorite. They both praised it as the best turkey sandwich in the Cape Fear.

“It was one of the most balanced sandwiches,” Hoffmann said, “from the chew of the baguette to the snap of the whole-leaf romaine to the creamy-dreamy Roma tomatoes and fresh mozz, it was flawless. Plus, pesto and Sriracha? Get outta here. Sometimes I would substitute a different bread or add avocado, but it was perfect as is.”

Voo-Doo chips, housemade cookies, nitro coffee and kombucha rounded out other menu items — nothing too fancy, just simple and inviting food. The difference came, according to fans, in its thoughtful approach and how it was served with a community touch.

When Gorham picked up his lunch on Friday, not knowing it would be his last time, he said he found some Detour decals and coasters in his bag. “I thought, ‘Oh, Allister must be getting ready to do something different’ — like no way thinking he was going to close.”

Gorham said he reached out to Detour in hopes of buying a T-shirt, and half jokingly hoping to score a dozen or so sandwiches to freeze so he can feed his addiction a little longer and “ease into the Detour detox.”

Snyder didn’t state in his social media post any immediate plans moving forward. However, he responded to Port City Daily’s request for an interview: “Thanks, for the interest, but at the moment I am not focused on elaborating more.”

Have food news? Email

Want to read more from Port City Daily? Subscribe now and then sign up for our newsletter, Wilmington Wire, and get the headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.

Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

Related Articles