Kim Kilbride always ordered turkey and swiss on wheat. Her husband, John, who likes his bread toasted, usually opted for ham and swiss but sometimes got a Cuban sandwich or chicken salad.
It was the same every Saturday for the Kilbrides, who for the last two years made weekly walks to Carter & Cooley Company Delicatessen from their home in the Heights. Kim called it their “pilgrimage.”
Last Saturday, though, paying homage to their favorite neighborhood deli doubled as a farewell. It was the last day in business for Carter & Cooley, which closed after 30 years at 375 W. 19th St.
When asked where they planned to have lunch this Saturday, the Kilbrides were stumped. John said the couple felt “lost.”
“I don’t know, and I’m sad,” Kim said. “I’ll be Googling ‘second-best sandwich shop in Houston’ to find one.”
Generations of Heights residents, and those who frequent the historic neighborhood, can relate. Carter & Cooley, named after Heights founders Oscar Martin Carter and Daniel Denton Cooley, became a community icon while combining fresh, comforting food with friendliness and an old-world feel. Antique kitchen equipment was sprinkled throughout the dining room, with black-and-white photos lining the walls.
The restaurant was filled with hungry, nostalgic and heartbroken customers during its final few days, which owner Neil Sackheim likened to “attending my own wake.”
“The community is in mourning,” he said.
Sackheim, a 63-year-old New York native who is retiring to travel and spend time with his husband, Stephen Voss, also called the outpouring of support “eye-opening” and “incredible.” And while it was the end of an era on 19th Street, it likely was not the end of the deli he founded.
Sackheim said he is granting ownership rights to his two longtime managers, Charles Salas and Zena Cortez. Salas said they plan to keep the restaurant’s recipes and memorabilia and open in a new location in the Heights within a few months.
Sackheim said the deli could not remain in the 100-year-old building at the corner of 19th and Ashland Street, per the lease he signed with Heights developer Radom Capital LLC, which bought the 9,703-square foot building from Sackheim last October. The seven other tenants who leased spaces from Sackheim have since vacated the two-story corner property, which has been remodeled for new tenants.
Permitting documents on the City of Houston website name Ohio-based Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams as an occupant for 375 W. 19th St.
Hair stylist Susan Romero of Venus Hair, which operates a few doors to the east on 19th Street, said she wants to be welcoming to new businesses on the block. She also said losing Carter & Cooley is like losing a family member.
“Change is hard,” she said.
Camden Tissue, a Heights resident whose young family liked to eat at Carter & Cooley on Sundays after church, said they are willing to “give anything a try.” But they’ll still miss the deli and are anxiously awaiting a reopening.
Joey Tijerina also is hopeful about the deli’s future, but he’s worried Carter & Cooley won’t be the same in another location. He discovered the deli shortly before moving to Dallas in 2011 and made it a point to eat there when he returned to Houston to visit friends and family.
Salas said he and Cortez hope to rekindle Carter & Cooley’s magic by maintaining relationships with longtime customers and continuing to give them what they know and appreciate. Along those lines, Salas said the business hopes to land in an older building as opposed to a new development.
The Kilbrides hope to resume their Saturday routine as soon as possible, because they are not ready to part ways with a deli they’ve come to love.
“It’s the atmosphere, it’s the community, it’s the people – all walks of life – and great smiles,” Kim said. “Everybody that works here welcomes you. It’s just family.”