Walk through the doors of the Beach Hut Deli and you might be tempted to say — with a nod to Dorothy, her little dog and Oz — “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Make that the Valley anymore.
The deli at Campus Pointe — owned by Clovis High School graduate Sammy Franco — exudes a definite beach vibe. A tiki hut thatch roof covers the bar. Booth tables are fashioned from surfboards. An interesting array of sandwiches — including the Beach Bikini, Surfin’ Pig and Righteous Reuben — are served on flying plastic discs.
(The thatch is fireproof, and each booth has its own flat screen TV.)
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“We want people to come in, kick back and relax,” said Franco, a Clovis resident. “You’re in town, but you come in and feel you’re out of town.”
Beach Hut Deli is a chain restaurant, started in 1981 by then 19-year-old Troy Feist in Granite Bay near Sacramento. Feist loved the beach. Hence, the oceanside theme.
Today, Beach Hut Delis are in more than 40 locations in California, Nevada and Oregon. Franco and his wife, Rachel, opened the local Beach Hut Deli in June 2015.
Many of the gourmet cold and the hot melted sandwiches come in three sizes — regular, large and extra large. The extra-large sandwiches weigh 2 to 3 pounds and can feed two to three people.
“There’s something for every appetite,” Franco said. Half sandwiches also are available.
The most popular cold sandwich is the Surfin’ Bird — turkey, avocado, bacon and cream cheese. Prices are $8.95, $12.95 and $15.95.
All sandwiches include a number of condiments, including dill pickles, tomatoes, red onions and cheese.
The Beach Bikini — turkey, cream cheese, cranberry sauce, sunflower seeds, alfalfa sprouts and mayo on wheat bread — also is a customer favorite.
Cold sandwich offerings include three veggie sandwiches: the California, La Jolla and Pier 39.
The Malibu is a popular hot sandwich. It’s made with chopped pastrami, Swiss cheese and Italian dressing with mayo and avocado on toasted garlic cheese bread.
Beach Hut Deli also offers three breakfast sandwiches ($7.95 or $8.95) and a variety of salads, each priced at $9.95. Franco’s favorite salad is the Super Salad, a mixture of quinoa, edamame, corn and bell pepper topped with tomatoes, onions, sliced avocado and feta cheese. It’s served with a side of lemon garlic Italian dressing.
With the coming of winter, Rachel Franco will roll out several homemade soups, which will rotate during the cold months. The soups will include zuppa toscana (an Italian soup featuring Italian sausage), menudo posole and tomato bisque.
Beer, wine and cocktails are available. Fourteen draft beers are served on a rotating basis, and the brands include local favorites House of Pendragon (based in Sanger with a tasting room in Clovis) plus Tioga Sierra and Full Circle (both based in Fresno). Beers range from $4 to $6.50.
Cocktail names continue the beach theme.
The Island Girl is a mixture of Malibu rum, pineapple juice and orange juice with a splash of grenadine and Sprite. The Loaded Beach Hut Mary is garnished with a skewer of celery, bacon, salami, Greek pepper, pickle, cocktail onion, green olive and shrimp.
Six other cocktails are available. Prices range from $7 to $9.50.
The Beach Hut Deli’s bar — made from surfboards — is circular and designed so customers face one another and can easily talk. “If they’re not leaving as friends, at least they’re having conversation,” Franco said.
After graduating from high school in 1997, he worked for a number of restaurants, rising through the ranks into management and meeting his wife when they both worked at a big chain eatery.
They decided to open a Beach Hut Deli because they like its philosophy and wanted out of a big corporate environment.
“We wanted to create a place where we could make friends. We both like customer service,” Franco said. “We like entertaining people, and we learned a lot of the ins and outs of the business in the corporate world.”
Running their own place has taught the couple other things, as well.
“You’re the accountant, the plumber and the handyman,” Franco said. “The bottom line is your dollar, and you don’t take for granted family time. We’re married to the business.”
The Francos have two children, 12-year-old Sammy, a student at Alta Sierra Intermediate School; and Lily, 9, who attends Cole Elementary School.
The kids sometimes help around the restaurant during the day.
That sense of togetherness is underscored by a stream of reggae music — recorded during the week and live on Saturday night — that flows through the deli.
“We think it’s a great vibe,” Franco said. “The music has a great message. It’s peace, love and togetherness. The music is the message.”
The Beach Hut Deli is at 3071 E. Campus Pointe Drive, east of the Save Mart Center off Chestnut Avenue. The phone number is (559) 697-4099, and the restaurant is on Facebook. Hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday and Monday; and 10 a.m. to midnight Tuesday to Saturday. Monday is Collegiate Night with reduced prices on food and drinks for students with a valid Fresno State ID. Wednesday is Karaoke Night and Thursday is Tacos and Tall Cans Night. Homemade tacos and cans of Tecate and Tecate Light are $2 apiece. The restaurant does catering.