Gladie’s Deli headed east, will incorporate bakery offerings

A little over three years ago, Lee Willhite and family opened Gladie’s Deli in downtown Culver. Now the restaurant is moving closer to home for Willhite, but also hopefully closer to where traffic from Culverites and visitors flows: 415 Lake Shore Drive, just a block west of the town park and public beach (on the east end of the building perhaps best known as the former home of City Tavern/Diner), and literally right across the street from the Willhite family’s home.
“We’ve always kept open the possibility of an opportunity to move on this side of town,” Willhite says, “So when this opportunity (to move the deli) came up, I called...Dan Bickel (owner of the Uptown Cinema and Edgewater, who recently purchased the building) and asked him his plans for the building.
“He was very open to allow me to move. It was probably the closest we were going to get to this side of town.”
Willhite recalls putting a great deal of thought into the original Gladie’s, including traveling around the country to look at several similar ventures, three of whose look and feel he combined into Gladie’s, which is named for his mother, Gladys.
The original downtown location, however, at 108 N. Main Street, wasn’t as conducive to traffic flow as Willhite would have liked. On top of that, he says the “spark” for the deli left him with the untimely death of his brother, Jeff, in 2008.
“I remember shortly after he died, I was going to close (Gladie’s),” Willhite recalls. “Jeff was the cheerleader -- he really helped with it. But a close friend of mine said, ‘You should wait a minimum of a year and a maximum of two years to really know. Don’t make any quick decisions you’ll regret later.’ That was the best advice I got, even though it was difficult. Even after waiting, though, it just wasn’t the same.
“But with moving, the spark is back, knowing Jeff would like this new location. He used to talk about, ‘How can we get Lee on the other side of town?’ We knew he’d be happy with this area. This was sort of the rebirth of Jeff’s memory, something I know he would be all over.”
Gladie’s will retain its overall feel, combining soothing colors with a new injection of natural light which the venue makes available.
And while the deli offerings will remain largely the same, including the choice of Boar’s Head meats, the major change will be the addition of a baker to facilitate a wide range of baked goods to enjoy. Towards that end, Willhite says the deli’s hours will be extended to a broader variety.
As in the past, Gladie’s will also offer catering, something the business has handled successfully in the past around the lake and regularly to Culver’s Kiwanis Club. The availability of banquet and catering space in the same building, something Bickel hopes to take advantage of, makes for a nice combination of possibilities. Further, Gladie’s will benefit from something unavailable in its previous locale: a parking lot.
Family has always -- and continues to be -- an important part of Gladie’s, says Willhite. His brother Mike has always been a part of the operation, and his parents have been very supportive as well. In fact, all of the sandwiches are named after Willhite family members.
And Gladys Willhite herself continues to bake her home-made fudge and soups.
“Now that she’s across the street, we plan to have her here more,” Lee says, then jokes, “That’s free labor! I’ll make up for it at Christmas!
“She’s excited for the move,” he adds on a more serious note. “(My parents are) excited because it’s right there. They sit on the porch of their house, so they’ll get to see the traffic of people.”
Gladie’s Deli may be reached by phone at 574-842-4523, and online at www.Gladie’sdeli.com.