Neighborhood Eatery Nearly a Century Old: The Story of Community Deli
Community Deli, 901 Oberlin Road
By Ruth Little and Ann Sides
University Park’s boundaries include a former grocery store at the corner of Oberlin Road and Van Dyke Avenue that is nearly 100 years old. Surprised? So was the flooring crew that found a 1906 coin as they replaced the floor of the Community Deli earlier this year. The former neighborhood food market has undergone a transformation since its earlier days, and is now an eatery, offering breakfast and lunch to neighborhood workers and residents. Older residents in Oberlin Village, however, remember it as the “Community Gro”. (There was not enough room on the sign to spell out “grocery.”) An African-American, A.J. Jeffreys, ran his grocery business at that location in the mid 20th Century.
Written histories of the neighborhood mention a white Jewish man who operated the grocery earlier in the 1900s. There were a number of little wooden stores up and down Oberlin Road in those days, but the Community Deli is the only one left. Dan McGee, who worked for Mr. Jeffreys, eventually bought the store, converted it to a corner deli about 1973, and operated it for about twenty years.
Four years ago, Crystal Bish bought the deli. She had been a regional inspector for Burger King until the day that Burger King was bought out and the new owners fired 650 people in one day. Crystal had never even seen the “Community Gro,” as it used to be known, when she saw a For Sale ad for it on Craigslist. She bought it with her severance package from Burger King. She has shaken up the food menu and the ambience considerably without changing its humble exterior. Rather than using frozen hamburger patties, she grinds fresh hamburger every day and has introduced a number of specialty burgers, including the “Seth Bomb” and the “Southern Comfort.”
Her fresh-cooked collards can be pre-ordered and picked up to serve for Thanksgiving or other holiday dinners. She sells 200 quarts of collards the week before Thanksgiving. WRAL TV recently recognized the deli as one of the top five places to get good soup in Raleigh. The soup is available by the quart for pre-orders. She sells breakfast all day long.
The deli now has three or four tables of outdoor seating.
Crystal’s 18-year-old son Josh Braun has been working here for four years, but you’ll have to get over to the deli quickly to meet him, because he’s enlisting in the Navy in a few weeks.