SOUTHEASTERN NC — When Kelly Ashline was a teenager, she worked for the now-defunct sandwich haven South College Deli — and loved the experience. The owners were kind, the food was solid and the customers were loyal, according to the former employee.
Though Ashline didn’t stay in the restaurant industry too long into adulthood, a passion for cooking and baking stuck. Now, with business partner Jessica Brotherton, a love for the art of crafting the perfect sandwich is coming back full circle.
“It was weird how it happened because we had been planning our food truck, not even knowing that South College Deli was going to close [during the pandemic],” Brotherton said.
Last weekend, the ladies officially opened Nowadays Gourmet Sandwich Bar at Luck’s Tavern in Castle Hayne.
“It was really cold,” Ashline said as she flipped roast beef melted with cheese and onions on a flat top. “But it went well, except…”
“The card reader went down,” Brotherton chimed in. “So we could only do cash — but we still sold a lot of sandwiches.”
Ashline runs the kitchen, makes the food and bakes the sweets, while Brotherton oversees the business operations. However, both ladies were hands-on in transforming the Vintage 1961 Serro Scotty Sportsman into a modern mobile eatery.
“Everything has changed since 1961,” Brotherton said. “Like no trailers are made that way anymore.”
When the project renovations began right after Memorial Day 2020, the ladies rebuilt the walls and disassembled the interior. They upfitted it with white subway tiles and industrial fixtures with Edison bulbs, to blend modern and vintage. That same vibe is carried through in the name.
“I think Nowadays is, like, taking that old — that’s where that old camper comes in — and blending it with new, the now,” Brotherton said.
They installed new flat-top grills, fryers, panini presses, plus cold storage and double wash sinks.
“The only thing we had done was a family friend handled the electrical part and then we had a plumber — but, literally, we did everything else,” Brotherton said.
The fun part came in crafting the menu, which they’re keeping truncated for now until they have a better idea of what people like most. They use Boars Head meats and procure bread from Breadsmith.
“There’s one that’s called ‘The Beast’ that’s probably going to be one of our bestsellers,” Brotherton predicted.
The seared, thinly sliced London broil comes with melted cheese, caramelized onions and housemade barbecue sauce on a toasted onion roll. How Ashline makes the sauce isn’t revealed, even to her closest business partner.
“She won’t tell me,” Brotherton said.
They also carry a handheld called “The Trippple,” a club with turkey, ham, bacon, lettuce, sliced pickles, and mayonnaise.
“It’s super simple, but it’s so good,” Brotherton said.
Since inspiration runs deep from Ashline’s South College Deli days, the obvious question — “Will you bring back the beef on weck?” — is yet to be answered.
Well, sort of.
“We were talking about it last night,” Brotherton said. “I don’t think anyone even knows the work that goes behind those. There’s just no way we could do it on the truck, but if we were to ever open a restaurant, I think we would probably bring it back. But, gosh, we’re gonna have to spin it. We’re gonna have to do it.”
Nowadays also will appeal to the vegetarian crowd. “The Real Deal” is loaded with vegetables, homemade garlic aioli and served on toasted sourdough.
“It’s got a lot of flavor,” Brotherton explained. “We knew it was an important menu item.”
Whether or not they will expand to serve other dietary needs remains to be seen. The ladies first want to get the truck operational and assess their customer base.
“All these diets are so big now,” Brotherton said. “Gluten-free, Keto, and it’s like you can’t have a sandwich . . . I think we’re gonna try a gluten-free one, but that’s tricky.”
The mobile eatery will launch breakfast soon as well. Brotherton has a proclivity for the Speedy Gonzalez, a wrap stuffed with a Southwest omelet. She also praises Nowadays’ “wafflenuts” — waffle-shaped donuts served with a homemade glaze.
Over the holidays Nowadays was doing caterings that included trays of sandwiches plus sweets, like pumpkin rolls, blueberry muffins, banana nut bread, brownies, black bean brownies and pumpkin bread. On the truck they also sell cookies.
“But I think handhelds are our focus,” Brotherton said.
Since the ladies have day jobs and families, the balance can be tenuous. For now, they’re operating Nowadays only on nights and weekends. Breakfast will be served weekends only, but once a rhythm gets going, Brotherton said the schedule will evolve more.
“We’re hoping to be doing weekday lunches by springtime,” she said.
With a homebase 10 miles outside of Wilmington in Rocky Point, the entrepreneurs want to set up shop at places to serve a rural population often overlooked. Still, they will book at local breweries, parks and neighborhoods across the region too.
Essentially, wherever the crowds want to eat, the women hope to go. “I think most people do just enjoy a really good sandwich,” Brotherton said.
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