Al’s Deli on Noyes Street is struggling to stay in business.
“We haven’t paid rent in November and December yet,” co-owner John Pottinger said, ”but we have a GoFundMe campaign that has begun to raise some money to help us.”
The page was started by customer Sharon Bechdolt.
“We have decided to start a GoFundMe campaign to help sustain the future of our local business treasure, the wonderful Al’s Deli during these difficult times,” she writes on the fundraising site’s page. The page is called “Amis de Al’s Deli”. During a phone call Bechdolt noted that she got the French grammar for the page name wrong. “Once you have it set up, you can’t change it.”
“When Covid hit, I did a lot of [Paycheck Protection Programs] for businesses,” Bechdolt, a CPA, said, “They [Al’s Deli] already had their PPP set up, but I started the GoFundMe for them.”
“Their sandwiches are fabulous,” Bechdolt said. “I have been eating there for years… I eat the smoked turkey and Swiss on baguette … They manage to get so much flavor out of simple ingredients.”
“They’re quirky,” she said lovingly of the Pottingers. “It’s food with a lot of thought and time. It would be just a shame if it were going away.”
Al’s Deli has been featured in Rick Kogan’s book Sidewalks.
Pottinger said that the business has been around for 73 years and was started by his father, Al Pottinger. John’s brother, Bob, now age 76, joined the business in 1971 and John, now 69, followed in 1979.
“We have been more paranoid about Covid,” John said. “We are a couple of old guys.” He explained that they continue not to have a dine-in option and that “some people really want to dine in and have stayed away.”
Al’s Deli serves soups, sandwiches and cookies and has traditionally served the neighborhood, faculty, staff and students from Northwestern University, city staff from the Civic Center and patrons of the Noyes Arts center. They serve lunch and used to stay open until 6 p.m., but now they are only open until 4 p.m. When asked about staff, John shared, “We have some help, but it has been hard to hire people.” They frequently have had Northwestern students work for them and have some help lined up for January.
When I asked if retirement was an option, John replied, “We’re the kind of people who go out feet first.”