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Garden Deli & Cafe Must Find a Niche to Survive

New eatery across from the Hyatt on Speedwell Avenue has too much competition not to step up.

Since Morristown Patch is not Saveur, Bon Appetit or The New York Times, we don't think it's our place—nor our mission—to bad mouth new businesses if we are, in general, less than pleased with their output. That I prefaced this story with that advisory, however, speaks volumes.

Simply, Garden Deli and Cafe (36 Speedwell Ave., 973-998-4545)—recently opened across from the Hyatt on Speedwell Avenue—will not survive without making some key changes.

When signs first went up a couple months ago announcing a new place with a salad bar, it seemed like the void left when Health Shoppe closed would be filled even before Grassroots Market began renovating that space.

What currently is at Garden, however, pales in comparison to what may have been too-high expectations. Walk up to their new cafe and there is a sign touting an "all-you-can-eat" salad bar that, upon examination, does not merit the hubbub. It's fine, especially when you can go back for seconds (or, thirds), but nothing stands out.

The small salad station reveals your standard fare—lettuce, cukes, peppers, tomatoes, beets, broccoli, etc.—and a couple of unusual items, like buffalo chicken chunks, feta and some kind of macaroni salad that may be an acquired taste. Another chicken was there, as well, but was extraordinarily dry and felt like it had been out in the air all day.

This experience was on my first visit, at about 5:30 p.m. Since Garden closes at 7 p.m., I gave them the benefit of the doubt and decided I should come back during the day. This time, I skipped the salad bar and ordered a wrap. 

"The Cali Wrap," as it's called, features turkey, pepper jack cheese, "fresh" avocado, cucumber, lettuce, tomato and pesto mayo. While the menu said $6.99, mine came to $6.75. So, hey, discount.

Sadly, there was no avocado at 3 p.m. I don't want to guess why and be wrong. It could have been there was a lunch rush. They could have had a bad batch. But, either way, it feels like a rookie mistake on a key item that hopefully won't happen again. Instead, I got mixed roasted vegetables, which were fine, but definitely changed the flavor of the wrap.

The other ingredients felt, well, cheap. The turkey was of the slimy, pre-formed variety and there was no hint of pepper in the pepper jack—it tasted like American cheese that had begun to melt. If there was pesto in the mayo, there was not enough for me to detect its presence.

There are other items at Garden which may fare better. The menu listed a number of "Natural Boosters," fruit and vegetable drinks that claim in their names various health benefits—like the Porcelain Skin, a concoction of carrot, cucumber, apple and cantelope for $3.99. There were morning sandwiches, other cold sandwiches and hot paninis and hot—gag—"sammies."

Most of these items can be already gotten in Morristown, however, with more to come. While Whole Foods is still a couple years away, Grassroots is coming within a few months. Jungle Juice makes fresh fruit drinks as does Muscle Maker Grill, only a few storefronts down.

Growing pains are inevitable and, hopefully, Garden Deli & Cafe can work through theirs. It's a primo location, which means it's under a tighter microscope. There is so much competition in Morristown that they are going to need to sincerely step up their game in order to make a proper name for themselves.

My advice, for what it's worth: Take the one or two best elements you have in what is right now a hodge-podge of ideas and own them. If that's the salad bar, expand that sucker and make sure there are irresistible ingredients I can't get at the Kings salad bar. Just being "all-you-can-eat" is not going to cut it.

If it's the sandwiches and wraps, find another provider for your ingredients. Why am I going to pay the same for an average wrap at your place when I can pay roughly the same amount at Muscle Maker Grill who has "my health in mind," as their theme suggests? Whether it's snake oil or legitimate, it's their thing and they have owned it.

Garden, you need to find your niche, because other businesses are more than happy to sell us theirs. Good luck.

Jonathan ayala November 21, 2012 at 08:34 PM
Mr. Dunphy, As young entrepreneurs we appreciate ur constructive critique. Being that this is our first business we need as much feedback as we can get to improve our customer service, food quality and everything in between. As our business grows so will our knowledge and you have provided the first step to our ever growing improvement. We thank you for your patronage and hope you will come back to see our progress. Again, thank you for taking the time to review our deli. Jonathan Ayala and Christopher Arevalo-Garden Deli management
John Dunphy November 21, 2012 at 08:40 PM
Jonathan and Chris, I am very happy to hear you not take the review the wrong way. I wish you only the best. It is definitely a great location and the space itself is in good shape. I will definitely stop in sometime in the future to see your progress. Please feel free to let me know at john.dunphy@patch.com.
Elizabeth Walker December 07, 2012 at 09:45 PM
First off, I want to give kudos the garden deli management for taking the high rode on this review. I just want to say that the morristown patch is about helping out small businesses in our community, and this has done the exact opposite. After reading such an in descent article I decided to check them out my self, and let me just say they're not 5 stars but what this article portrays they're not made justice. I got a cold joe( ham, turkey, cole slaw, and French dressing) and let me say the meat was pretty good and the cole slaw went really well with it. Walking in, the staff is very welcoming and you can tell they put love into what they do. For who ever is reading this, I hope mr. Dunphy's opinion doesn't stop you from checking them out and should actually go try them yourselves. As a mother I know that we should support our youth, instead of putting them down, as they're the future. I am now a regular and was insulted as appalled for this and my support goes out to them and I hope morristown patch takes action for this article. Elizabeth Walker
Debby Salazar January 10, 2013 at 06:42 AM
Most of john Dunphy's articles are ignorant and this one (like most others) proves my point. Totally agreed with Elizabeth on her comment. It's nice to see people still appreciate old fashioned hard work.

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