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Renton's Armondo's, Go Deli, Uwajimaya team up on deli venture
A unique partnership with the new Uwajimaya market in Renton is helping to expand the brand of two downtown businesses – Armondo's and Go Deli.
The deal also gives a lift to Uwajimaya, the Asian specialty grocery market at the Renton Village that is looking at new ways to attract customers to the store.
For the last several weeks, Armondo's and Go Deli have been supplying the deli at Uwajimaya's with prepackaged to-go sandwiches. Each supplier is still testing the market to figure out what works best for Uwajimaya's Asian and Western customers and also meets Uwajimaya's goals for its deli.
The partnership comes as Armondo's and Go Deli are feeling the pinch of the economic recession. More business – and exposure – is good.
But more business also means more work for Armondo Pavone, who has run Armondo's in downtown Renton for 25 years. He makes about 200 sandwiches and 50 salads a week for Uwajimaya, delivered on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
"I've made every sandwich. That's 4 o'clock stuff in the morning," he said.
The sandwich-making has added about 30 hours to his workweek.
"Extra business is a good problem to have," said Pavone, although he's not expecting it to be a "huge cash cow."
"It's easy to sit around and complain about no one sitting in your businesses," he said. "You need to do something about it."
Armondo's sandwiches cater to what might be considered Western tastes.
From Go Deli, Uwajimaya gets a distinctive Asian flavor.
Go Deli Owner Tom Nguyen and his crew deliver fresh sandwiches daily to Uwajimaya. But even that initial supply chain has changed dramatically.
Uwajimaya is now purchasing a number of Go Deli's products wholesale besides its sandwiches.
That includes Go Deli's new line of traditional Vietnamese/French cakes baked in house, tea, noodles, pastries and spring rolls.
"They want to keep their shelves really full," said Nguyen said of Uwajimaya.
The sandwiches include one of Go Deli's signature ones, the Asian Veggie.
The bread for the sandwiches is baked in house by Nguyen's brother in law, John Lu.
"We are hoping it will be a big success for both sides," said Nguyen.
The business venture with Uwajimaya is a way for Go Deli to spread its name through a large regional market that's trying to "make a footprint" in Renton, he said.
Armondo's has a footprint in Renton that has lasted for 25 years.
Pavone has signed up two other customers for his sandwiches, salads and other products, including the Liberty Cafe on South Third Street. "They fly out the door," he said of his sandwiches.
Pavone buys his breads from the La Panzanella Bakery in Tukwila.
Pavone is supplying sandwiches and a whole host of his specialties to Julie's Landmark Cafe on Lind Avenue Southwest in another partnership. That includes macaroni and cheese, lasagna and other Italian specialties.
In fact, cafe owner Julie Fisher said she'll keep only a relatively small selection from her previous menu.
"I think he is a very good person to work with. He's local," said Fisher of Pavone. "His food is really good. It's almost like homestyle."
How the partnership happened with Uwajimaya is "very much organic," said Alan Kurimura, the company's vice president. Armondo's and Go Deli came together with Uwajimaya, he said, at a time when the new store in Renton was trying to better understand what its potential customers wanted.
"We learned we needed to broaden our mix of offerings," Kurimura said. So, they went looking.
And, "as good luck would have it," he said, they found Armondo's and Go Deli, which wanted to expand their businesses.
Eleven years ago, Uwajimaya did something similar but on a much larger scale. It opened a 16,000-square-foot food court at the new Uwajimaya Seattle in the International District that featured family owned businesses rather than chain outlets. In those 11 years, Kurimura said, no vendor has asked to get out of a lease.
A small business is not "hung up in bureaucracy," so agreements are made over a handshake and face-to-face conversations, he said.
"That's the feeling we get with Renton," he said.
So far, the store is "pleased" with the sales. There's no "end date" to the arrangement, Kurimura said. "We hope it's long-term."
Uwajimaya has its own deli and an eating area in the front of the store. It doesn't make sandwiches. An Eastside vendor is going to provide soups.
Uwajimaya's deli has a steam table and a cold case with sushi, with different dishes to order. Right now, the idea is to introduce the different offerings to customers, he said.
The steam table is regularly changed, he said, and different ethnic dishes are featured.
Uwajimaya wants to cater to Asian and Western tastes and not just in its deli, said Kurimura. Uwajimaya is proud of its meat selection and its butchers who can make specialty cuts, he said.
Sales at Uwajimaya have been slower than projected when it opened in July, Kurimura said. Part of that, he said, is the learning curve about what the store offers.
But the store also learned, in talking with the City of Renton, the Chamber of Commerce and other businesses is that "we cannot just open and people will come. We will need to introduce ourselves more," he said.
Part of that outreach is as one of the business partners with the City of Renton during Renton Heart Month campaign in February.
"We are here for the long haul," Kurimura said.