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ITHACA, N.Y. — Shortstop Deli wasn’t always making made-to-order sandwiches 24 hours a day, though it has been over 30 years since they have closed their doors to customers.

“It wasn’t 24 hours until the early 1980s,” said current owner Chuck Dong in the last week of February. “I just found the key to the front door. Prior to cleaning my office two days ago, I’d never seen it in 20 years.”

A toasted French bread pizza sub from Shortstop. Photo courtesy Shortstop Deli.

In the know

While Shortstop is open all day, every day, the best time to show up is right around 10:00 am, right after the main breakfast run, but before the lunch rush.

Shortstop can whip up a custom-made breakfast sandwich at any hour, but all breakfast sandwiches are $2.00 off from 5:00 am to 10:00 am during the daily early bird special.

“We try to make as much of the store available to everyone all the time,” said Dong, whether that’s macaroni and cheese at midnight, 10 flavors of fresh brewed coffee in the wee hours of the morning, or an egg and cheese bagel for for lunch.

Favorite bites

Dong’s favorite sandwich to make for himself is a classic Reuben, with turkey instead of corned beef and toasted French bread instead of rye.

“Part of the tradition is that that are so many options,” Dong said. “You make it how you want it.”

The most ordered sandwich at Shortstop is the “old reliable turkey sandwich,” with lettuce, tomato, onions and mayonnaise.

Since 2000, Shortstop has owned the Hot Truck, Cornell’s Food Network-famous icon. The deli offers a selection of Hot Truck’s most-loved pizza subs, so customers can get a P.M.P. (“Poor Man’s Pizza,” tomato Sauce & Mozzarella Cheese on toasted French bread) even when the West Campus location is closed for the night.

Chuck Dong with two Shortstop employees. Photo courtesy of Shortstop Deli.

Made fresh, 24/7

Not much has changed about Shortstop since Albert and Cindy Smith opened the deli in 1978, not even since ownership changed hands last year from its long-time owners to its long-time manager. Dong had managed the store for 14 years, and worked (and eaten) at Shortstop since he was a teenager.

“I haven’t reinvented the wheel,” Dong said. “It’s not a new tradition. It’s a continued tradition.”

They layout of the store is more open and has a fresher appearance than it once had, and Shortstop regulars will notice some new healthier convenient snack options, like fresh fruit and cheese sticks, in a reach-in cooler at the front of the store.

The business model, however, is very much the same: bake their own bread and take care of their customers.

“A lot of places bake their own bread, we slice our own meats and cut our own vegetables too. We make everything to order. We have the option to make that order hot and toasted. You can get a custom made-fresh sandwich at 2:00 in the morning,” said Dong.

When asked about his daunting schedule, (“Downtime doesn’t exist.”), Dong insisted that it’s not a burden, but a privilege.

“This is what I wanted: an opportunity to be creative and to contribute to the community that raised me. It’s humbling.”

Shortstop Deli

200 West Seneca Street, Ithaca, NY |14850 | (607) 273-1030 The Shortstop Deli was founded in 1978 by Albert and Cindy Smith who set out to build the best sandwich in Ithaca. They chose to use only the...

Jennifer Wholey

Jennifer Wholey is a feature writer and Head of Dining Partnerships for the Ithaca Voice. Contact her at jwholey@ithacavoice.com.