Kathy’s Deli, a fixture in the Shippensburg community for 17 years, is the latest area small business to fall victim to the coronavirus pandemic.
Owner Kathy Pugh made the decision to permanently close the doors of the popular deli and catering service April 21, and Thursday afternoon they opened their doors for the last time, giving customers an opportunity to redeem their Kathy’s Deli gift cards and to say goodbye.
“Making the decision was the hard part. Once I made the decision, I became at peace with it, that this is the way it’s supposed to be. I feel that when one door closes another one opens,” Pugh said Thursday. “We just want to say we can’t thank everybody enough for their support over the years.”
The pandemic hit the catering side of Kathy’s Deli’s business especially hard. Catering revenues disappeared overnight as events got canceled for public safety reasons and due to social distancing guidelines.
“We got one cancellation after another. We had a lot of big events booked for this spring, one for 500 people, one for 600, another for 800,” Pugh noted. “With catering being half of our business, we are so reliant on the schools and the college. With that all gone, there wasn’t enough left to sustain our business.
“Then the weddings were starting to cancel, and we did have to pay back a lot of down payments to a lot of brides when I contacted them and told them we were going out of business. But most of them aren’t going to be able to have a wedding anyhow, at least not the one they planned.”
Kathy’s Deli has catered many large gatherings in the area for years, including the annual Stewart Foundation Christmas Dinner, featuring Kathy’s famous turkey dinners with all the trimmings.
Pugh would have liked to see Kathy’s Deli survive the pandemic and last another 17 years, she even had a plan in place to do so, but that too fell apart during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We were working with someone that was thinking of buying into the business and taking it from there, but with the COVID-19, she said she wanted out. That is when I made my decision [to close],” Pugh said.
A Ship staple
Pugh was an experienced caterer when she decided to start her own business. Ever since, Kathy’s Deli has become a staple in the Shippensburg community, whether it be through their friendly service, support of various causes, or providing food to Shippensburg High School athletes.
In 2018, the deli was named the No. 1 caterer in Cumberland County, beating out many larger caterers in Carlisle, Mechanicsburg and Camp Hill.
“I had catered for quite a few years, working a lot of hours for other people and when the opportunity came to start my own business, I figured it made sense,” Pugh said. “Shippensburg has been a good community for us. We tried to serve wherever we could and donated where we could. My husband and I have four kids and they went through the high school and were involved in sports. It was just natural to want to help. We’ll definitely miss the customers, that is the hard part [of closing]. We had a lot of good relationships with our customers and made a lot of friends over the years.”
Donna Wengert had been a part of the Kathy’s Deli family before it even got started, and she was often the smiling face that welcomed customers at the cash register of the West King Street business for the past 17 years.
“Everybody that comes in tells us how sad they are that we’re not going to be here anymore.” Wengert said Thursday. “My feeling is the same; it’s going to be hard not to come to work every day at Kathy’s Deli because I have been here since she opened the business.”
Wengert and Pugh’s relationship dates back to grade school. They were both daughters of auto mechanics and their families knew each other well.
“When [Kathy] was opening her business, she called me and asked if I would want to work with her, which I felt was a real honor, so I jumped at the chance to do that,” Wengert said.
She, like Pugh, would have liked to see Kathy’s Deli last another 17 years.
“I will miss the people,” Wengert stated. “I worked on the register a lot, so I saw a lot of people and got to know a lot of people that I didn’t know before and saw a lot of people that I did know. People from my graduating class in high school would come in often. It was really nice to get to know everyone.”
The special ingredients
Although Kathy’s Deli has closed its doors, Pugh plans to pass on the recipes for some of your favorite Kathy’s Deli foods so they can still be enjoyed for years to come.
The most popular food at the deli, the paninis, will soon be offered at Pizza House on East King Street using Kathy’s recipes.
Additionally, Pugh and Wengert will team up to create a Kathy’s Deli Cookbook, which will feature the recipes for Kathy’s Deli’s most popular dishes.
“We are going to try to put all our recipes in the cookbook, especially our house dressing, the potato salad that we sold, broccoli salad or our catering,” Pugh noted. “Everything that we can come up with out of our cookbooks is going to be in there.”
Some other popular dishes include Wengert’s personal favorite, the macaroni and cheese, and Kathy’s Deil’s fresh-made salads.
“I’d say our fresh-made salad was a really close second to the paninis,” Wengert noted. “Everything was really fresh, and every salad that went out of here looked fantastic. There were things on them that I didn’t even like, but I thought they always looked good.”
Pugh and Wengert plan on releasing the Kathy’s Deli Cookbook in October, just in time for the upcoming holiday season.