Listening to chef-owner Shannon Martinez talk through the food at her Fitzroy corner store Smith & Deli, which reopened last Thursday after renovations, it's easy to forget everything is 100 per cent vegan.
"We have salami hanging in the cool room, we’ve got ham and turkey, we're slicing roast beef, and we're smoking our meats as well," Martinez says. "We're smoking cheeses and making fresh buffalo mozzarella, marinated feta – I feel like we've got almost as many, if not more, choices [as] a regular deli."
After closing for almost three weeks, Smith & Deli now has a new look and a renewed focus on its house-made deli, and charcuterie and ready-made meals. The grocery section, which Martinez saw as innovative when the deli first opened, is gone. The chef says with the rising accessibility of vegan grocery items it feels unnecessary now. “The big supermarkets all carry those same products now, and it just felt a bit redundant to keep selling them," she says.
Martinez opened Smith & Deli with business partner Mo Wyse in 2015 after the success of the pair’s vegan diner Smith & Daughters (Wyse moved on from the business earlier this year). The original concept was based loosely on the delis of New York, but over time it became a mix of a deli, sandwich shop and grocer. And while it was always a Fitzroy favourite for vegans, vegetarians and others, with its crème brulee doughnuts, almond croissants, cheeseburger pies and Tim Tam frappes, Martinez felt a disconnect between what it became and how she envisioned it in the beginning.
“As a Spanish girl, I grew up in delis and I've always had a massive love for them – for the charcuterie, cheeses, dips, olives, all the antipasto,” she says. “All I want is to be able to bring that experience to vegans.”
Everything’s made from scratch in the deli’s kitchen using labour-intensive recipes Martinez developed herself. Wheat protein and gluten form the basis of most of the meats, and coconut, soy, cashews, and cultured nut milks are the starting point for the cheeses. Aside from meats and cheeses, Smith & Deli sells ready-made meals such as beef bourguignon, mapo tofu and scalloped potatoes. There are also jars of sauces, salad dressings, sauerkraut and kimchi; a butcher section with marinated chicken skewers and garlic prawns; and a freezer filled with party pies, family-size lasagnas and chicken schnitzels.
“Babe, we've got everything. Only things we don’t are your toilet paper and deodorant,” Martinez says with a laugh.
The deli has always been busy – many weekends there are lines out the door and around the corner – so the sales system has changed, too. There used to be only one register, but now any staff member can run purchases through the checkout, and the same person works on your order from start to finish. Just like a traditional deli counter, you take a number and wait to be called, so more customers are served at once.
The grab-and-go offering has stayed the same; the deli’s popular Vegemite-and-cheese scrolls, bagels, pastries, buttery croissants and cinnamon doughnuts all remain. The Ruebenstein, Egg & Sausage McMartinez, and other sandwiches are now also available all day.
Next month, Smith & Deli starts rolling out home delivery for the ready-made meals, sandwiches and pastries. A weekly menu will be available on the website, and all orders will be fulfilled by the team’s own drivers, so the deli won’t be relying on external food-delivery apps.
“I think this'll be an awesome opportunity for people in the south side to start getting Smith & Deli,” Martinez says. “I think the one thing we do, that we do best, is our own stuff, and I’ve always wanted to share that with more people.”
Smith & Deli
111 Moor Street, Fitzroy
(03) 9042 4117
Tue to Sat 8am–6pm