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Publication Date: Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Country Corner is a grocery store and community center, all in one Country Corner is a grocery store and community center, all in one (April 24, 2002)

PROFILE

One in an occasional series of stories about family-owned businesses in the community.

By David Boyce

Almanac Staff Writer

West Menlo Park isn't lacking in community spirit at its own vital, if unofficial, center: the Country Corner deli and grocery store on Alameda de las Pulgas at Monterey Avenue.

For neighborhood kids, it's a refuge stocked with candy, ice cream, a sense of home away from home, and even credit.

For the gardeners and construction workers in the area for the day, the noontime line to the deli at the back of the store speaks to the popularity of the sandwiches and homemade salads.

And for upscale shoppers, a $100 bottle of wine, a $50 bottle of 18-year-old single malt scotch, or a six-pack of micro-brewed ale are not hard to find. The store also stocks gourmet items, such as capers and imported olives along with canned goods and other staples.

Tying it all together with bonhomie and energy to spare on any given weekday are owner Bob Wehab at the cash register and Edward, his younger brother, making the sandwiches. Also working in the deli every day are Bob's wife Nadia and Lila, a family friend.
The food

At least part of the experience of buying a deli sandwich is watching it being made. Edward knows this. "Let them look at something good," he says, speaking of customers looking over his shoulder as he works.

Edward, who says he loves to serve people, says the most important factor in making a good sandwich is attitude. "Be well in yourself," he says. "You have to be calm. You have to have empty thoughts."

Their most popular sandwich is the chicken filet with melted cheese and avocado on Dutch crunch bread, he says. The sourdough buns are big sellers too; they go through six dozen every day.

The deli also has salads and other prepared foods for American, Russian, Mexican, Greek and Italian palates. Bob says his wife makes the salads in the morning, and that they have a reliable source of homemade pasta every day.

In the morning, customers favor the Krispy Kreme donuts that Bob brings down every day from Daly City. He says that the secret to their popularity is in the way they're made. They're fried quickly in a shallow pool of vegetable oil, he says, and rely on sweetness rather than fat for their flavor.
Looking back

Bob and his brother were born in the town of Ramle, near Tel Aviv in central Israel. Of the current turmoil in Israel, Bob says: "It's ugly. It's really ugly."

Both Bob and Edward are particularly concerned about the tense stand-off between the Israeli army and about 100 Palestinian gunmen and several monks and nuns taking refuge in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.

The church is built on the location believed to be the birthplace of Jesus. They both attended services there many times as children, Bob says.

Bob and his brother are of Greek heritage and were brought up as Christians, attending Catholic elementary school and Greek Orthodox high school. They came to the United States after high school and have been here ever since. Bob lives with his wife and four kids in Millbrae, while Edward lives in San Bruno.
Building's history

Bob bought the store nine years ago. He says that although the building is more than 100 years old, it would still be recognizable to a visitor from its early days when it was a carriage stop for ranchers. One big change is that it used to have four doors, one in each wall, to provide entryways at strategically placed horse hitching posts, Bob says.

He says the store was a saloon for a while, and for a time it had a butcher shop in the back, with ovens and facilities for smoking the meat. Bob says that the building is unchanged because the county considers it to have some kind of historical significance, but the archivist at the county historical society says there is no record of such status being conferred on the building.
The customers

The store is popular with regulars. Bob says he has 1,500 regular customers come in every week. With traffic like that, it's not hard to pick out a stranger at the counter.

Once in while, Bob says an underage kid with a fake ID will come in and attempt to buy alcohol or cigarettes. They don't get by him because he can identify such IDs when he sees them, even those with authentic-looking watermarks.

He says he turns it back and forth in the light to make his determination. "Doesn't look good," he tells them. "You keep it." He says he tries to set a tone to discourage them. "You tell them 'No, no, no.' They never come back. They tell their friends, 'Don't go there.'"

For all the cigarettes and alcohol available in the store, one would expect to see another popular vice: lottery tickets. But Bob doesn't sell them. His brother Edward comments: "The people around here are lucky enough."

Occasionally, a neighborhood dog will come by. "They jump over the fence, they come straight here," he says. He says he keeps them in the backyard and calls their owners to come pick them up.

With the daily influx of kids, parents, well-to-do home owners, gardeners and construction workers, the store is a destination for a wide range of customer cultures. Bob has a simple approach. "We treat all our customers equally, from little kids to 100-year-olds. Doesn't matter," he says.

Age is no factor in determining creditworthiness, for example. The words, "Pay me next time," are frequently heard. And discounts of 10 to 15 percent are common for customers who buy in bulk, such as sports teams.

Zack Heimbuck, a senior at Menlo School, likes the store because "they know you," he says. "It's like a little center in the community."

Ruth Steinberg, a physician at Palo Alto Medical Foundation who lives in Menlo Park, says she visits the store every day with her kids on the way home from school. "This is just the best store," she says. "If you don't have enough money, you can pay them later."

As a physician, Dr. Steinberg says she also likes the location of the store because it encourages a healthier lifestyle that involves walking to the store rather than driving.

Bob says he gets up every day at 4:30 a.m. to drive to San Francisco and Daly City to pick up rolls and donuts. "It takes much discipline to run a store," he says.
INFORMATION

The Country Corner grocery store is located at 3207 Alameda de las Pulgas, at the intersection of Monterey Avenue. It is open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., except on Sundays, when it closes at 7 p.m.


 

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