A Tuscaloosa entrepreneur has one foot in the past and another in the future as he prepares to open a brand-new sandwich shop across McFarland Boulevard from his already successful restaurant.

Justin Holt, who entered the local restaurant scene nearly a decade ago when he opened Southern Ale House, sat down with the Tuscaloosa Thread Tuesday to talk about his newest concept, the Deli Press.

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The new sandwich shop is expected to open in mid-June where Zoës Kitchen closed last summer, off McFarland Boulevard north of the Black Warrior River and right across Highway 82 from the original restaurant.

"The opportunity presented itself to take over that space and obviously we're already very familiar with this block of real estate," Holt said during an interview at Southern Ale House. "We've honestly always had the idea of a deli in the back of our minds and said if something ever popped up in the right spot and we thought we could have success with it, then we'd jump on it - so this is kind of a no-brainer."

Holt said every community either has a deli or wants a deli, and although there are plenty of days when a quick sub from a chain restaurant will do the trick, sometimes you can't beat something dreamed up, prepared and served here at home.

"Really, everybody likes a good sandwich," Holt said. "And I think everybody really likes to support locally owned businesses, too."

Holt said since Zoës was already up and running as a full-service restaurant, there has been very little remodeling to do, leaving him plenty of time to focus on decorations that establish the deli's theme -- a nostalgia for the glory days of print newspapers.

"I think of the Tuscaloosa News specifically -- this little newspaper held out a long time and they kept printing here for a long time," Holt said. "I have so many friends who worked for so many outlets and I really grew up in the newspaper age -- it's a dying age, unfortunately, but I think we can have a lot of fun with the theme."

That work will be made easier by Justin's father Cal Holt, who is president of Knight Sign Industries and decorated both Southern Ale House and Dotson's Burger Spot, a downtown Tuscaloosa restaurant they closed in 2020.

Holt said the specifics of the menu are still being sorted out, but promised to carry over Southern Ale House's 'quirkiness,' its made-from-scratch philosophy and commitment to excellent food.

"We're kind of looking for something local and different," Holt said. "There are two closed places that stood out to me and a lot of Tuscaloosa probably still knows -- that's International Deli, which was on the Strip 20-something years ago and a place called Solomon's, also on the Strip, and which has been closed for 30-plus years."

Both were known and loved for gourmet sandwiches, Holt said, and the Deli Press will aim to emulate their success.

He also said the new deli will hire its own private butcher to smoke and roast their meat so it will be a premium product that patrons can only get in one place.

The concept is still in its early stages of development, but Holt said he's excited to bring it to life and continue to offer excellent local food north of the river while meeting the unmet demand for a local deli.

For more updates on the Deli Press and for other exclusive stories about restaurant and retail development in and around West Alabama, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.

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