Pictured above, Gadsden Variety owner Blake New (center, holding scissors) joins friends, family, coworkers, city officials and Gadsden Variety lovers as he celebrates the reopening of Gadsden Variety & Deli at 422 Broad Street in Gadsden.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
When Mike and Sandy Self announced their retirement in the summer of 2020, downtown Gadsden worried that an iconic piece of local history might become lost.
On Friday, October 2 Gadsden Variety & Deli hosted a ribbon cutting to commemorate its reopening under the New ownership, welcoming visitors to celebrate a downtown favorite that is here to stay.
“[I hope that customers gain] a glimpse of happiness from the past or something from their childhood they remember,” said Gadsden Variety & Deli owner Blake New. “I want them to walk out smiling and want to come back. If they get a good piece of cheesecake or ice cream or a deli sandwich, that’s great too. I want them to leave smiling and thinking, ‘Wow. I’ve got to go back just to see what’s next.’”
As a child, New meandered peacefully about 422 Broad Street, which then housed Nelson’s five-and-dime store. He visited the store each time he and his father traveled downtown, buying buttery popcorn to accompany the memories he collected along the way. Little did New know that as he strolled up and down those creaking floors as a customer, the future would find him walking the same floors as its owner.
After leaving a position at Goodyear, New planned to open a small café – a dream of his that grew from his previous restaurant background. When he and his wife Heather learned that the Selfs were going to retire, they saw a perfect opportunity before them. The timing was right, and the News could not let this chance slip past them. Before long, Gadsden Variety was theirs, and New’s dream manifested into a reality.
Although New gained his café at Gadsden Variety, the antique portion of the store demands most of his time. While he finds himself too busy to play in the kitchen, his café is safe with chef Evan Tudor. Employees Angel Boddie and Ryan Gauthier are among the staff who happily returned to Gadsden Variety to assist the News with the store.
Most of Gadsden Variety’s menu remains unchanged – a collection of delicious wraps, hamburgers, deli sandwiches and hot dogs. For dessert, visitors can expect eight flavors of Blue Bell ice cream or a slice of mouth-watering cheesecake, hand-crafted by Glen Porter. New shared that they are cooking what they enjoy eating, meals like BBQ on Wednesdays, chicken and dressing on Thursdays and spaghetti on Fridays. Yet while the café’s comforting menu and cozy tables beckon guests to unwind for a spell, New understands the importance of accommodating all persons who walk through the doors.
“The people downtown, they don’t get a long lunch hour,” said New. “They only get half an hour. We want to keep the menu the same for them. If you come in for lunch, we’ve got a quick deli sandwich for you. We’re retooling the kitchen somewhat now to add a few items here and there. In our retooling, we’re going to upgrade. We’re going to bring a cooler out where the ice cream currently is. It will be cold serve grab-and-go with chicken salad and deli sandwiches, things like that. That way you can just grab it, head to the cashier and head out. It will make it a lot faster and add another dimension to it.”
Though the News are implementing fresh ideas to update the café, they share the Selfs’ vision for preserving the essence of Gadsden Variety that so many locals love. New confessed that when he first explored the store, he thought the floral department might be an area near retiring. He quickly learned that Gadsden Variety’s floral department is unique in its services, providing silk flowers in high-demand for cemetery monuments frequently, with customers traveling for miles to purchase arrangements. New shared that he will always serve the wishes of the people – until the demands change, the store remains the same.
“It’s a beautiful place and we don’t want to change that at all,” said New. “The seasonal plants [are popular]. We’re in pumpkins now; we’ll go into poinsettias next. We just sold two truckloads of mums. I wish we had more, but we try to get them at peak before bloom. We look for the select things…our ferns are a cut above, and our poinsettias I’m anticipating are really good. Things like that separate us from everybody else. Our antiques and our tables and our custom-built furniture is unmatchable.”
Among all the responsibilities New inherited, he shared his favorite aspect of them all.
“Talking to people is what I enjoy the most,” said New. “You can learn a lot from a lot of people who come in here and look at our stuff that is a fond memory of their past. You want to sit down and talk to all of them. It’s amazing to hear their stories…stories of this building, Broad Street or just our town. It’s really neat. It’s a new chapter in my life to get to stop and smell the roses and listen sometimes. That’s really fun.”
Though unearthing hidden gems in antiques or discovering one-of-a-kind furniture pieces from local vendors add to the magic of Gadsden Variety, the building itself and the people it houses reinforce a welcoming environment that will never go out of style. With its creaking wooden floors that hold 100 years of history, guests can travel back in time to simpler days that remind them of golden childhood moments while creating fond memories in the present.
The News understand the importance of conserving such rich character, and nurture the nostalgia that lingers in the air at Gadsden Variety. Together, they carry on the Selfs’ legacy while making the beloved downtown treasure an artifact of their own, putting their personalized touch on a place that holds a personal connection with so many Gadsden residents of all ages. Thanks to the News, Gadsden Variety’s cherished presence continues to shine brightly on Broad Street, as the couple begins writing a new chapter in a favorite local story.
“We’re so thankful and grateful to all of our friends and our community,” said New. “We couldn’t do it without our friends and Mike and Sandy Self. We love them and how gracious they are to us. We couldn’t do it without the people who want to come back in and relive a piece of this building…that makes the world go round. I really am appreciative and thankful that people want to come in and shop and dine and visit. [Gadsden Variety] is a landmark building in our town. It’s been so many things to so many people over the years, from variety to dime and antique stores, but it always just keeps coming back to it’s a really cool building, with a great layout, a little café and a happy place to be.”