'Deli Debi' dishes out great food, service

The manager of Harvest Foods’ deli preaches respect and a strong work ethic.

Debi Weston, right, serves up some salad with a side of smiles.

Debi Weston, right, serves up some salad with a side of smiles. Photo by Donna Lasater.

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Salads, picnic food or hot soup in the cold winter — certain foods just make you happy. The deli at Walla Walla’s Harvest Foods can supply you with mood-lightening fare for all occasions.

Debi Weston, aka “Deli Debi,” manages Harvest Foods’ thriving deli department. Her origins as a chef date back to her mom, Lucie Larter. A great Southern cook, Larter was head chef in restaurants featuring comfort food and Southern hospitality, and her influence was the foundation of Weston’s career.

“My passion was to have a deli/restaurant and serve wholesome, homemade food from scratch. Southern cooking,” Weston said.

Weston explains what makes the deli successful, giving credit where it’s due: “I always got to tell my mom she taught me to cook and clean; I’m only as good as what she taught.”

Weston adheres to what she calls “old-school” concepts, which she thinks are becoming scarce in the modern world. These include a strong work ethic, pride in what you accomplish and the value of respecting one another.

Weston and her friendly staff strive for empathy and compassion toward customers and each other.

“I praise my workers, let them know they are appreciated. If you appreciate others, they are going to do their best. I get in there and work with them. We are equals — I just happen to be the orchestrator. You make a well-oiled machine; if it’s not oiled, the work is jagged. It goes downhill fast.”

Weston listens to customers’ needs and she listens to her crew’s ideas.

Weston appreciates her colleagues at Harvest Foods. “I have a great crew,” Weston said. “They put up with me.” A total of eight people work in the deli, with a combined 32 years of experience.

The store’s owners support their deli workers. “We have great employers, Nolan and Kathleen Lockwood. He’s a bottom-line businessman with a heart and Kathleen is the heart of our harvest,” Weston said.

For their part, the Lockwoods recognize the innovation and creativity of Debi and her deli staff. “She likes to try new things,” Kathleen Lockwood said.

The key to a great deli, Nolan Lockwood said, is “freshness and quality products, with a little love in there, too. It’s amazing what they create out of that little space, and they don’t have the most modern equipment. We’re pleased with her and her crew. We have a lot of great people. And the sampling is fun.”

“When you have a great person, it’s important to just get out of their way and let them do their work,” said Kathleen Lockwood.

And that work is impressive. The deli offers a large assortment of items on the menu, and is able to accommodate a variety of special diets, from meat-loving to vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and more. With a focus on locally produced items, the deli features coffee from Walla Walla Roastery and breads from Walla Walla Bread Co., and offers 25-30 housemade salads and signature wraps such as tarragon chicken and turkey, cranberry and cream cheese. Deli staff will custom-make your own recipe if they can.

They even have wholesome, handmade dog cookies to keep the family pets happy.

The deli also offers sample items, such as soup. “We were sampling six different soups. One lady almost passed out from the flavor,” Weston said.

The staff experiments with new products after Weston researches them. She is currently working on options for picnics. She’s focused on healthy choices, and the quality must be outstanding.

The deli does a brisk catering business, with the staff taking care of small and large orders with equal precision. Weston said that food at an event is an important part of the memories: What you see, taste and smell helps form your impression.

One of the reasons for the deli’s success is that they work as a team, sharing a focus on quality. “We work in a small space, they put up with me,” Weston said. “It’s all about quality, cleanliness and customer service. When I hire someone I tell them it’s like being an intricate piece of the pie. More hands make for less work.”

She loves creativity balanced with strict rules about health and freshness. “I’m a stickler. We follow the health department rules by the book,” Weston said.

Cleaning is a constant undertaking. “It’s just routine,” she said. “We have daily routine cleaning. Weekly routine cleaning, monthly and quarterly. I teach them not to walk by the spot on the wall.”

The deli department strives to be the best they can be. “What makes a good deli, first and foremost, is customer service. ... Our motto is ‘We honestly care,’ and it’s more than just a statement — it’s actually real.”

Karlene Ponti can be reached at 509-526-8324 or karleneponti@wwub.com.

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