2017-06-29 / Front Page

Former employees buy East Ferry Deli

BY RYAN GIBBS


All the outdoor tables are taken, as well as some steps, during lunch earlier this month. Because of East Ferry Deli’s popularity, the new owners don’t plan on changing much more than the awning. 
PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN All the outdoor tables are taken, as well as some steps, during lunch earlier this month. Because of East Ferry Deli’s popularity, the new owners don’t plan on changing much more than the awning. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN While many were surprised about the ownership change at House of Pizza, which was sold Memorial Day weekend with plans by its new owners to open a more complete restaurant in early July, a change in guard at another village eatery will be far less jolting.

That’s because unlike the pizza joint, it will be business as usual at East Ferry Deli.

Alyson Johnson and Julie Fauxbel officially will become proprietors Saturday of the popular hangout at the corner of Conanicus and Narragansett avenues. The women purchased the deli from Stacy Feight, the daughter of Diane and Bob Umbenhauer, the late owners who purchased the deli in the mid-1990s.

While their titles have changed, Johnson and Fauxbel will be familiar faces to East Ferry’s regular customers. Both women grew up in Jamestown and worked at the deli together in the late 1990s. Fauxbel actually hired Johnson.

“We met here,” Fauxbel said. “We have a lot of history with the customers.”

“We were all like family,” Johnson said about the Umbenhauers.

The deli is popular with tourists during the summer months because of its picturesque vantage point overlooking the Newport Pell Bridge and Narragansett Bay, but the new owners ascribed its longevity to the regulars. Townspeople keep coming back for lunch and coffee long after the tourists depart after Labor Day.

“The deli has always been a home for a lot of people,” Fauxbel said. “Our customers, we know them and we know their families. We do cater to islanders because they’re important to us. We’ve actually grown up with a lot of them. I think that’s why a lot of our regulars keep coming back.”

East Ferry Deli opened in the late 1980s and was purchased by the Umbenhauers in November 1994. They operated it together until Diane died in 2003, which is when Feight took over her mother’s half of the business. She ran it with her father until he retired.

Feight decided to sell the family business, in part, because of her health. She has chronic Lyme disease, which can be tough on the joints, she said.

“It’s hard to work when you can’t move your body, especially at the deli,” Feight said. “I’m moving onto other things that will be easier for me.”

When they discovered the deli was about to be put on the market, Johnson and Fauxbel approached Feight with an offer. The women were keen to purchase the restaurant that had been such a significant part of their lives, and they wanted to keep ownership local.

“We had always talked about eventually owning a restaurant together, because we’ve done a lot of things together,” Johnson said. “When this came up, it was perfect for us.”

Without that offer, Feight said she probably wouldn’t have been able to sell the deli as quickly as she did. She’s glad the buyers turned out to be her former employees.

“We’ve been friends forever,” Feight said. “It was the right thing to do in terms of taking care of what the family established. The customer base loves them. I think they’ll do an awesome job.”

Apart from plans for a new awning and some repainting, the women said they don’t intend to make any significant changes to the restaurant or its menu, which offers deli staples, such as sandwiches, coffee and bagels. Their immediate plans for the deli once they become the owners in July are fairly straightforward.

“We’re going to work,” Johnson said. “We’re going to be here every day.”

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