1. Business

Westside Deli provides healthy alternative for Pasco residents

NEW PORT RICHEY — The Westside Deli has been open barely more than a month, but the restaurant already has regulars. The 1,500-square-foot deli was packed to bursting last week for a grand opening and ribbon-cutting.

Longleaf residents Bob and Deb Morris own the deli located off Citizens Drive, across Little Road from the West Pasco Government Center. The deli features fresh, organic, locally grown produce, Boar's Head products and handmade toppings and dressings. The menu is filled with classic deli favorites (think Reubens and BLTs) along with creative and healthy sandwiches like the popular West Coast (avocado, hummus, spinach, tomato, cucumber, red onion and turkey), salads such as a quinoa tabouli salad and a rotating menu of new items that Deb Morris experiments with, nicknamed "Deb's Whims."

The venture is not the couple's first foray into the restaurant business. The Morrises met while working at a restaurant. A Florida native, Deb went with Bob to visit his home state of New Jersey and had her first taste of an authentic Northern deli.

"I went into a real deli and I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I have to eat like this every day,' " she said. "And then we came home and opened one."

They opened their first restaurant in 1995, Oldsmar's the Warehouse Deli, which served basic deli fare. Seven years later they opened the Cypress Grille in the same town, serving "bar food, but better" in a nonsmoking environment. By 2003, the Morrises' restaurant success had started to cut into their family time. They took a break to focus on their family, Bob taking a job in sales and Deb working as an assistant in the pre-K autism class at Longleaf Elementary.

Now with a teenage son and two adult daughters, the Morrises were ready to get back in the kitchen. This time around, they decided to emphasize healthy, often gluten-free breakfast and lunch items. They don't use a microwave or fryer in their cooking. The couple eat that way at home and saw a lack of that cuisine in area restaurants.

"My joke is, she makes healthy taste good," said Kim Koenig, an employee and longtime friend.

The deli also passes the test of former New York resident and regular customer Richard Johnson, who works across the street at a county office. "I was hitting all of the fast-food places. I tried other restaurants and they were so-so," he said. "But then I came here and tried their Reuben and it's delicious."

The restaurant seats 28 patrons, with room for more on two picnic benches out front. The walls are white, with accents of "avocado and lemon," and are covered with inspirational phrases and a collection of clocks. A hand-built vegetable stand overflows with produce.

"We've just been blessed with so many people who have come and helped us do so many things, from putting speakers in, to painting, to building the vegetable stand. It's just incredible," Deb said. "It's not like it's Bob and my deli, it's all of our place."

The deli refuses tips, preferring instead that customers show their gratitude by coming again, and the Morrises are eager to customize any order.

Chief Assistant County Attorney David Goldstein says the deli is the place he frequents most for lunch these days. "You have the fast-food places and you have the chains, but there's really no restaurant in this area that will make the kinds of sandwiches and salads that they make, that you know are relatively healthy and they're fresh," he said.

At the grand opening, West Pasco Chamber of Commerce president Chip Wichmanowski sounded an optimistic note about the group's new member.

"Anytime you can get somebody that's serving a high-quality food, healthy food with quality service and a friendly atmosphere, it stands to be a success," he said. "They're great community people and it's going to be a great community deli."