Grove Market & Deli
1906 S. Main St.
Salt Lake City
Given the glut of superstores and convenience markets that litter the landscape these days, it is easy to forget that American towns were once built on the backs of family-run food markets. Downtown areas were places where hardware stores, drug stores and fresh meat counters abounded. The buying habits of the last fifty or so years have led to the consolidation of most of the small boutique stores and the almost total annihilation of the family-owned food market. There are a few hold outs, though. As family businesses have focused on adapting their enterprises to the needs of their clientele, some have managed to stay relevant and keep a solid customer base. One of these success stories is Grove Market & Deli.
Grove has been a Salt Lake City staple since 1947. Originally, it was a simple mom and pop food store that serviced the neighborhood around Main Street and 1900 South. It still fills this role, offering a small selection of produce, canned goods, basic grocery and drug store items and cold drinks. But as customers started flocking to larger format stores, Grove had to do something to keep people coming back. The result was the development of a deli menu that would pull from, and showcase, the quality food items that were available for purchase. This same desire to meet the needs of a changing customer base led to the addition of specialty chocolates, quality glass-bottled soda, a fine selection of tobacco and an entire aisle of boutique-made hot sauces. Today, Grove Market is celebrated as both a sandwich shop and hot sauce mecca. It is certainly worth checking out.
Somehow, calling a sandwich from Grove ‘large’ doesn’t really communicate what you’re getting yourself into when you order. They are so immense that they border on being obscene. This comes into focus when you realize that the “ambassador rolls” they use to make sandwiches are really just entire loaves of French bread. For the fickle, they also offer sliced bread varieties like rye, wheat and pumpernickel. But come on, when one of the choices is a whole loaf of bread, do you really need another option? On a recent visit, I went with my old sandwich order mainstay: The Deluxe ($8.99). The Deluxe starts with one of these infamous sandwich rolls. Layered between the halves of bread are generous piles of turkey and ham, your choice of cheese and standard fixings like lettuce, tomato and pickles. The pickles are an especially good addition—providing the requisite crunch and zing that nothing else really can. In all the time I have been going to Grove, I’ve never been able to finish one of these on my own. I normally split one with a friend and round out the meal with a bag of chips and a cold bottle of Big Red soda or Mexican Coke from the market side of the store. On a nice day, the picnic tables out front are the perfect setting for such a meal. If you end up there alone, you always have the option of ordering a half sandwich for a few dollars less. Even then, you may need to tote part of it home.
Another popular menu item is the Big John Combo ($10.49). This one is a meat lover’s dream. In addition to the turkey, ham and fixings found on the Deluxe, you get stacks of pastrami, roast beef, salami, bologna and corned beef. I’ve never been hungry enough to order one of these, but I suspect it is probably enough food to feed three people. Grove also offers single cold cut sandwiches, tuna and chicken salad, and even a vegetarian option (tomato and avocado) that range in price from $7.39 to $8.99. They have also started selling meatball and pulled-pork sandwiches ($8.99) for those who prefer a hot meal. As the weather turns chilly, I suspect that these will become increasingly popular options. The pulled-pork is cooked in-house and is as tender as it is succulent.
I love that a small scale market like Grove is still around. Not only is it a throwback to a time when one’s food needs could be met right in the neighborhood, it is a testament to how simple adaptation can allow a locally run sandwich shop to log more than 60 years of business. It also shows that, sometimes, quality and quantity go hand in hand.