Even if you’ve never been inside High Street Deli, the outside of the building has probably brought a smile to your face.
Located where Carmel and Beach streets intersect High Street, the neighborhood deli sports a vintage Eskimo Pie advertisement along one exterior wall. The building itself dates to the 1930s, when it was a store serving San Luis Obispo’s railroad workers. The festive mural was added sometime in the 1940s, and now gets a touch-up about every three years, said High Street Deli owner Randy Coates.
Better known as “Doobie” (a nickname inspired by the kids’ television show “Romper Room” and given to him years ago by his mother), Coates had grown up working in the restaurant business with his family, “but I wanted to do my own thing.” While attending Cal Poly, he lived just a few doors down from the High Street establishment, which at the time was a combination of market and deli.
“I really loved what they were doing, so one day I walked in and asked the owners if they wanted to sell it,” remembered Coates. “They actually said ‘Yes’!”
In the 10-plus years that Coates has owned High Street, he’s phased out the market aspect and concentrated on the deli side of the business.
There’s still all manner of vintage and amusing memorabilia on the walls, but aisles of merchandise have given way to a few high-top tables and stools, and about three years ago he gutted most of the interior to make the kitchen area more efficient.
The emphasis at High Street is on sandwiches, but you can also get a garden salad with house-made dressing, an albacore tuna salad served over half of a local Hass avocado, or one of the deli salads such as potato, macaroni or pasta. From-scratch soups are also available, and depending on the season might be something like chicken tortilla, black bean, or tomato basil.
Sandwiches are typically served on bread from Brian’s Sourdough Bread in Atascadero or a freshly baked roll from nearby Farb’s Bakery, and usually feature the Boar’s Head brand of cold cuts and cheeses. You can create your own or go for one of the daily specials such as the Nashville Club with Black Forest ham, house-made ranch dressing and jalapeños, or the Maui Wowie with grilled chicken, Swiss cheese, teriyaki sauce and pineapple.
High Street also has about a dozen or so “Chalkboard Specials” available every day. Choices range from a beef dip with au jus to a barbecue beef, a turkey pesto with melted provolone to a turkey club with Black Forest ham, an Italian sub to a hot meatloaf made “with Grandma Emy’s original recipe.” If you prefer veggies, pick the Garden Burger or the Mother Nature, packed with carrots, cucumbers, mushrooms, sprouts, avocado and pepper Jack cheese.
About six months ago, Coates added a couple of breakfast items you can enjoy with their fresh-brewed custom roast coffee.
The chipotle beef sandwich from the regular menu is available, plus the new Breakfast Sando with scrambled eggs, bacon or ham, and cheddar cheese, which can also be ordered “Cali style” with Ortega chiles and pepper Jack cheese.
There’s always an upbeat soundtrack playing at High Street, whether it’s classic rock, reggae or some other genre to suit the mood of the often fast-paced deli.
Overall, the atmosphere is one of neighborly camaraderie, so it’s no surprise when Coates says that “my other job is having fun, but we’re passionate about what we do and we’re always looking to improve. My employees are really the backbone of High Street.”