The Little Deli That Could
If you drive by you might just miss it. The strip mall in the Garden Springs Shopping Center in Lexington, Kentucky hides a tailor, a barbershop, a laundromat and a peculiar deli with an older man in a newsboy’s cap as their logo.
The uninitiated may be confused as to how the dining area in a hallway no bigger than one found in any high school in the state is as alive with conversation and chatter between the hours of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays.
Patrons aren’t here for the ambiance; they aren’t here for a complex menu. They flock to the unconventional Dad's Favorites for the family-crafted sandwiches James “Dad” Caudill has been serving for over 10 years.
Caudill has been cooking for as long as he can remember, he said. It was part of his family roots in Johnson County, Kentucky.
A former insurance salesman, Caudill began concocting cheese spreads based on recipes from his wife and mother on weekends to try to keep his mind off of his son serving with the Kentucky National Guard in Afghanistan.
Caudill started small in farmers' markets but found success and praise elevating him to retail space in Kroger.
It was when a perfect storm of increase in demand, the return of his son from Afghanistan and the graduation of his other son from the University of Kentucky that Caudill said "we're all in," and the Dad's Favorites of today was born.
The family began working out of an old trophy shop in the Garden Springs Shopping Center which Caudill said was "a ghost town.” The few businesses they did share space with began inquiring about a lunch menu showcasing the product the men were making for Kroger.
On October 10, 2010, they set a single table out in the strip mall hallway with a bare-bones menu. “We had six different flavors, so we had six different sandwiches, different meat, different cheese, different bread,” Caudill said.
For the restaurant that just celebrated its eleventh-year anniversary, the rest was history.
“This is definitely coming from a higher power because I have never been in the cheese business," Caudill said. "I have never been in the restaurant business and here we are.”
Caudill, like many restaurant owners, faced unprecedented challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. He credits his sale of cheese spreads, takeout orders and pure willpower to stay afloat when he was unsure if he would even be able to open some weeks.
“You’re always going to be challenged, as a small business owner if you don’t enjoy the challenge or you can’t handle the challenge, you’re in the wrong business.” Caudill said.
The impact of COVID-19 is still being felt by the team at Dad's Favorites, as current supply chain issues have forced them to adapt even after they moved their dining tables moved back into the hallway.
Regardless of the challenges faced and the ones to come, family will continue to be the cornerstone of Caudill's humble deli.
James’ son, Jeff, is a licensed accountant but spends his days as what his father describes as “the soup master.”
Jeff added that one of the deli’s most popular sandwiches, the Rushmore, came to him in a dream on Presidents' Day, giving the special sandwich its name.
Jeff's role extends further than the kitchen as he puts his accounting degree to use trying to optimize profit margins for the shop while continuing to put out products that regulars know and love.
The team at Dad’s Favorites has always maintained that serving good, fresh meals at a fair price point is what keeps their crop of regulars coming back. Dad’s is no stranger to regulars, especially within the local student population of Transylvania University and the University of Kentucky.
Students flood in particularly on Thursdays and Fridays after a night of drinking for what Caudill calls “the soakage.”
Dad’s Favorites has a dedicated fanbase from simple word-of-mouth advertising and a recent creation of an Instagram page that has already amassed over 4,000 followers.
It would appear that Teflon isn’t just inside the kitchen at Dad's Favorites, as a global pandemic, supply chain issues and an aging storefront haven't stopped what Caudill calls “a place that never should have been" from sticking around.
Regardless of what challenges are on the horizon, Caudill is confident that their family approach to serving sandwiches will continue to prevail.
In Dad's Favorites, it's difficult not to feel as if you’re at a family dinner as the tight echoey dining hall radiates conversation, smiles and smells of fourteen-hour braised pork and house-made corn beef.
If you’re in the mood for handcrafted sandwiches and good conversation, need a fresh haircut, a suit altered or need to do a load of laundry, step off the beaten path and visit the man they call “Dad”—you may just join the family.