With Under the Blue Moon for 20 yrs
Despite a leave of absence for Suzanne Leaming-Bagwell of Wyndmoor, her return to the delicatessen business on May 3 of this year, seven years after she leased it to another local resident, was more fate than anything else.
“Everything happened to fall into place,” she said last week.
For Leaming-Bagwell, 47, working in a restaurant is not just a passion; it is a family pastime. All of her nine brothers and sisters have worked in the restaurant business in one form or another over the years. For 20 years Suzanne worked in the late, much-lamented Under the Blue Moon, and four of her siblings also worked for that Chestnut Hill icon. “I really like dealing with the public,” she said. “I’m a people person, and I’ve been in the restaurant business my entire life.”
Suzanne grew up in Chestnut Hill and attended Our Mother of Consolation and Jenks Elementary Schools, followed by Ravenhill and Cecelian Academies. Then, after working in other people’s restaurants for years, the local lass’ dream of opening her own business became a reality, and she created Suzanne’s Deli at 918 East Willow Grove Avenue in Wyndmoor, now located between Rita’s Water Ice and the Wyndmoor Ear Company. “I knew the owner of the building, and I called 10 years ago and said I was thinking of opening a deli. I decided it was a great location, and very visible. My dream then became a reality.”
Leaming-Bagwell did in fact purchase the property a decade ago and did open a deli, which she ran for three years. At that point, however (2003), although she was still the owner of the property, Leaming-Bagwell decided to lease out the restaurant because she wanted to spend more time with her three children, the youngest of whom was four years old when she first opened the deli in 2000. “So in 2003 I leased it out to a local guy, Matt Flannery, who kept it as a deli (Flannery’s Deli),” she said.
Starting in 2003, Leaming-Bagwell began working in other restaurants and spent time babysitting for other people’s children under 18 months of age, while also spending time watching her own children grow. But after seven years, she began to miss the old business. And fortunately for Suzanne, her old space was about to be free again.
“I was babysitting for three (children), but their situations changed,” she said, citing their parents’ decision to start playgroups with the kids. “And Matt Flannery was leaving the building, so I figured it was a great time to go back into the business.”
Thus, Leaming-Bagwell changed the name back to Suzanne’s Deli and moved back into her old space, also altering the décor from a sports theme to a more rock ‘n’ roll atmosphere. “We have music pictures on the walls (the Beatles and Jerry Garcia, of the Grateful Dead), and there is always music playing,” she said, adding that she is also hoping to do more catering in the future.
And the food is always made daily in-house, which Suzanne believes makes the deli a little more “upscale.” Among the food items she offers are turkey, roast beef and chicken salad, and the customer favorites — hoagies and cheese steaks. Sandwiches are from $3.25 (grilled cheese) to $5.95 (turkey club). Steaks (12 inches, eight ounces) are from $4.95 (plain) to $6.75 (Buffalo chicken with blue cheese). Hoagies are from $5.25 (ham) to $6.25 (five different choices). Salads are $4.95 (Caesar salad or spring mix combo) up to about $6.50, depending on how many extra goodies are added to the salad. “Would you believe that some customers have told me I should charge more?” said Suzanne.
The second-time owner also offers non-alcoholic drinks and desserts and made-from-scratch breakfasts. Two eggs, any style, are $2.50, or an additional $1.45 if meat is added.
Three pancakes are $3; a breakfast sandwich is $3.95, and French toast is $3.75, to name just a few breakfast choices. Suzanne is also planning to start offering a dinner menu in late September or early October, and she will begin delivery service to the Chestnut Hill area in September.
Having grown up in Chestnut Hill, Leaming-Bagwell is delighted to have her deli in next-door Wyndmoor. The only limitation, she explained, is that the place is a little too small to do sit-down dining, which is why Suzanne’s is essentially a take-out deli, although there are a couple of seats inside and one table with four chairs on the sidewalk. When the demand is there, as it sometimes is, Suzanne puts more tables and chairs out on the sidewalk.
But she does not feel the small space will be a detriment. “There are not too many places around where you can just grab breakfast or lunch. So many people work in the area and don’t have time to sit down … And people say it is nice to have me back, and that feels wonderful. Lots of my old customers are coming back.”
Suzanne has been married for 23 years to Marc Bagwell, a general contractor. Their children are: Shane, 22; Courtney, 20, and Christian, 14. Suzanne is assisted every day by her manager, Maria Rambo, and her assistant manager, daughter Courtney.
Suzanne’s Deli is open 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. During a visit last Friday around the noon hour, the place was wall-to-wall with young male customers who work in the area. This observer may be wrong, but some of these young gentlemen may have been attracted not only to Suzanne’s excellent food but also to her personality (when her photo was being taken, Suzanne asked if the photo could be manipulated by PhotoShop to give her Nicole Kidman’s face) and to Courtney, a beautiful young woman who is planning to go into the U.S. military in the near future. (Maybe the young men can get on her Facebook page, if she has one.) Suzanne’s Deli, also known as Suzanne’s Gratefull Deli, is closed on Saturday through August, but after Labor Day, it will be open on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, call 215-233-DELI(3354). Suzanne said she hopes to have a Web site operational in the near future.