LACONIA – After eight years of serving New York-style deli sandwiches and homemade soups, Drew Seneca of the Downtown Deli is calling it quits with today being his last official day.
For the last two years, Seneca had been operating the lunch counter at the Laconia Antique Center – operating it much the same way as during its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s when the building was J.J. Newberrys, and getting a seat at the lunch counter could involve a long wait.
"It's just not here," said Seneca yesterday afternoon as he served three teenagers "frappes" or what the rest of the world calls milkshakes.
Seneca and his wife Elisa opened the Downtown Deli on Pleasant Street about eight years ago. As the recession set in, the Senecas looked to scale down their operation and jokingly thought they would move it to the recently opened Laconia Antiques Center.
Laconia Antiques Center owner Charlie St. Clair didn't think it was a joke and the Senecas gave it a whirl.
They added ice cream treats to the menu, continued serving locally-roasted coffee and Seneca donned the white coat of a soda shop operator. Elisa went to work elsewhere, and for Seneca it was a one-man show.
He said many people would come in and "wax nostalgic" about how their grandparents used to take them to the soda bar and buy them a "frappe," some ice cream or a burger.
"There's just not enough money coming in to keep it going," Seneca said yesterday.
Seneca said he is very emotionally involved in the Downtown Deli and downtown Laconia. He said he'll miss all the people who used to come in and visit, noting it was a favorite stop for many people – but just not enough of them.
"Hey, I don't want it to go," he said yesterday. "I really wanted this to work out."
The Downtown Deli is the second downtown Laconia eatery to close this month. The Vintage Cafe closed just before Christmas.
Charlie St. Clair, owner of the Laconia Antiques Center, said that he was sorry to see Seneca leave. "It's definitely been lots of fun," he remarked. "I'll miss him trying to educate people that frappes are really shakes." Pointing to Seneca pictured at the lunch counter by New Hampshire Magazine, St. Clair said "that's how we should look." Although he has no immediate propsects, St. Clair expects to have the lunch counter and ice cream parlor up and running again. "It's a simple turnkey operation," he noted.
Seneca is hosting a New Year's Day party at the Antique Center beginning at 1 p.m. and all of his friends who play music with him will be coming to join him.
"There'll be all kinds of music," he said.
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