Neighbor’s Deli’s Jon Snyder Believes Bigger is Better
The owner of the Northwest Side sandwich shop on the joy and the grind of deli life
On a recent Wednesday, Jon Snyder—wearing a plastic face shield and glasses—leans over his flattop grill at Neighbor’s Deli and, with one hand, heaps a mound of pastrami on its surface. Next, he grabs a handful of sauerkraut from the cooler, squeezes its juices over the pastrami and places the cabbage on the grill. With his other hand, Snyder answers a ringing phone and in a cheerful tone—“Neighbor’s!”—takes an order while at the same time placing four slices of Swiss on the pastrami. He’s careful to make sure some of the cheese hits the griddle and gets crispy, because he loves it that way. Then again, Snyder seems to love everything about his job. And he’s not shy about telling you: He’s damn good at it.
After 12 years in business, this friendly strip-mall deli is the busiest it’s ever been. Snyder says the early days were bleak, but then the shop hit its stride in 2017. When the pandemic hit, he was terrified but never shut down, saying he didn’t have a choice.
“We were just going to try and squeeze as much out of every day as we could. And then all of a sudden, it was probably last summer, something like a light switch went on and things went nuts,” he says, searching for a reason.
“I think I probably make good food,” he says, laughing. “I keep telling myself if I would quit making these sandwiches so good, I wouldn’t be so tired. I could feel my hands in the morning. But it’s like, what am I going to do? This is basically the one thing I can do in the world.”
Neighbor’s is more popular than it’s ever been, thanks in no small part to a Facebook group called Sandwich Connoisseurs of Columbus, which touts Neighbor’s in a big way. But, like many food establishments these days, the deli is also terribly understaffed. Snyder has only one other employee and says finding people to hire in recent months has been next to impossible. His hiring woes have forced him to close on Mondays, which might be a blessing. When I ask him what he wants out of the future, it’s not a second location of Neighbor’s. It’s sleep, maybe a vacation.
A Grove City native, Snyder’s first job in the food industry was at Zamarelli’s Pizza Palace. He says something clicked for him there.
“I just really like it. I remember working at this little pizza place, and I was telling the owner, ‘I want to do this,’” he says. Snyder worked at a Walmart distribution center out of high school, went to college and then spent time working in insurance. In 2009, he opened Neighbor’s with his uncle (who is no longer in the business) and says he created the shop’s sizable menu almost immediately.
“In two nights, I created the menu and then wrote the chalk boards,” he says, referring to the restaurant’s main focal point: a whole wall of colorful chalk board menus announcing all-day breakfast, “monster delis,” hoagies, paninis and “scrollers” (aka wraps).
Apart from the delicious sandwiches and the service being, well, neighborly, one attribute that sets Neighbor’s apart is the size of its sandwiches. Maybe to his own detriment, Snyder doesn’t skimp on the ingredients, offering Reubens and club sandwiches that overflow their bread boundaries with meat.
“My accountant’s like, ‘Your food costs are too high.’ Yeah, I know. I’m going to get my prices up to where they need to be at some point,” Snyder says. But it’s clear that the sandwich maker finds joy in the absurdity of a Reuben bursting at the seams. “It’s so fun. It’s silly. You know, you need to laugh at stuff.”
It’s 4 p.m., and there’s a respite before the dinner rush. When he’s alone at the shop, Snyder finds joy in heading back to his small kitchen and cranking up the music louder. It’s one of the most serene times he has during the day. “I don’t want it to sound like a clothing store. ... You want to hear, like, AC/DC coming out of the kitchen, stuff like that. Gnarly old dudes. That’s what I am. This isn’t an act.”
Neighbor’s Deli, 2142 W. Henderson Road, Northwest Columbus, 614-459-0188