Nick Seamon was a man on a mission when he started up the Black Sheep Deli on—he remembers the exact day—February 10, 1986.
He wanted to take up the New Yorker's burden and bring the Amherst area a real deli.
"I felt that what New England considered a deli wasn't the real thing," he says. "We brought in corned beef, pastrami, lox, baked goods people had never seen before."
At the time, at least one resident told him it would never fly. Twenty–four years later, it's hard to imagine downtown Amherst without the Black Sheep, a place that's a lot more than just a deli. The Black Sheep is a place people go to start the day or end the day, to meet, to listen to live music at scheduled times (check www.blacksheepdeli.com), to work (there's wi-fi), and to imbibe the place's special wit (a menu left over from the Bush years features a sandwich called The Challahburton, "with lots of PORK (sic) loin," and a ground lamb sandwich called the Wolfowitz in Sheep's Clothing. "It's been a wild ride," Seamon says in retrospect, "because neither of us [he and the two friends who bought the store in 1986] had previous business experience."
Inside the Black Sheep, food glints in glass cases: this particular day, there's the whitefish salad, the kippered salmon salad, the herring, the colorful tabouli salad. To the right, pastry lures: Danish, lemon squares, cupcakes. Eclairs covered with glossy chocolate launch their charm offensive while five different kinds of huge chocolate chip cookies wink from the shelf above, including Seamon's own favorite, the grand Marnier chocolate chunk. All bread and pastry in the deli is made from scratch except the halvah.
When trouble in the larger economy has made money tight, Seamon has taken his case to his customers. This winter, when he needed new refrigeration equipment, he offered them "Deli dollars": pay $8 or multiples thereof, get $10 or multiples thereof in store credit starting in April. It's a good deal for Black Sheep regulars."One gentleman came in and bought $1,000 worth of credit for $800," he says. Seamon raised $5,000 with this device, which he's also used in the past to get the deli improvements to handicapped-accessible bathrooms and an expanded bread bakery. "It involves the customers in our success," he says.
2nd place, Store for wine selection
3rd place, Place for gift baskets