How Oak House Deli Became One of Metro Detroit’s Favorite Vegan-Friendly Restaurants
| 5 min read
What is now one of metro Detroit’s most highly regarded hidden gems for vegan eats started as a bit of a self-serving endeavor.
For as long as Tony Maisano has owned Rocket Printing at 605 S. Washington Ave. in Royal Oak, he’s craved a centralized, quality, no-frills sandwich spot that he could get in and out of quickly during lunch hours.
So, in 2019, when the Baskin-Robbins next door to Rocket Printing permanently closed and became available for purchase, it was like fate. Maisano realized he could open the kind of fast casual restaurant he had envisioned patronizing for so many years, and he could do it 25 feet away from his desk chair.
“I opened Oak House Deli because, literally, I’ve been working down here for 20 years, and I just wanted a normal soup and sandwich place I could go to,” Maisano said, in an interview with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM). “I didn’t want to go to a place where there was celebrity names for sandwiches. I didn’t want something that was trendy. I wanted the food to speak for itself.”
The food at Oak House Deli has spoken loudly since Maisano opened the sandwich spot in March 2020 in Royal Oak. The Italian-born owner may have been green to the food service industry at the time of this venture, but he wasn’t green to the concept of great, quality food.
“I grew up in an Italian household, so food was currency. Let’s put it that way,” he said. “Food showed love, food showed care, food showed reward.”
Oak House fulfilled Maisano’s vision by introducing a menu pillared by classic sandwiches like the ham and Swiss, the Italian and the corned beef. But it’s the meatless side of the menu that has really started to shape Oak House’s identity over the last year or so.
“My wife has always been a vegetarian. Not so much vegan, but more vegetarian,” Maisano said. “When we were building this place, she had given me a couple of recipes for a vegan egg salad, which was made from chickpeas. We made it and it tasted great.”
That homemade egg salad piqued Maisano’s curiosity. He began sourcing vegan vendors from around the country with an eye on diversifying the Oak House menu. The sourcing started with a California company that made vegan corned beef, which Maisano bought and had made into a dish at Oak House. It went over very well in Royal Oak.
“Then I went to task, and I started finding vegan ‘meat’ so to speak, from all kinds of places,” Maisano said.
It’s not easy – nor is it cheap – to source quality vegan items. But for Maisano, it’s become a labor of love.
“It’s the passion for good food,” Maisano said. “It’s worth it because it tastes good. And I’ve seen a restaurant come out of the gate making great food, and then I go back three months later or something and think, ‘This isn’t as good as I remember it before.’ It has to be about the food and the taste, not the bottom line.”
Oak House’s vegan menu is modeled after their regular menu, so their vegan options are meat-free takes on some of the most popular sandwiches around. There are vegan taco subs, vegan pizza subs, vegan “egg” sandwiches and even vegan soups, pasta salads, potato salads and coleslaw.
Based on customer response, Maisano said two vegan sandwiches in particular stand out as the cornerstones of the plant-based menu: the vegan Italian and the vegan Philly cheesesteak, which is a bit elusive, as it’s not always on the menu.
“The vegan Italian, you can’t get that anywhere,” Maisano said.
The sandwich is made with vegan capicola ham, vegan pastrami, and vegan pepperoni, vegan provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion and Italian dressing on a hoagie bun. Most plant-based “meat” at the deli is made from wheat gluten.
“The biggest unique thing that we’ve been doing lately is the Philly cheesesteak,” Maisano said.
“You could call it a flaw or a positive, but I take so much time and I’m so particular about everything. The cheesesteak took a long time to develop. The bread itself for this sandwich took six months to develop. And let alone the cheese sauce, because if you have a good Philly, you have to have a good cheese sauce. Most vegans know that vegan cheese isn’t that great. Well, we found great, and we made it great.”
The entire menu is lauded by sandwich lovers in the Royal Oak area. But since quality vegan food is harder to come by than its carnivorous counterpart, Oak House Deli has transcended the Royal Oak food scene to become a household name in Detroit. Their wide reach is based on the deli’s willingness to go above and beyond with its vegan offerings.
“Oh, people love us,” said Oak House General Manager Bill Palchak. “If you go to the Vegan Detroit (Facebook) page, you can just see the love people have for us. It’s a great community to be a part of; I’m not even vegan but they are wonderful. We have a really good customer base here. Even if there are long lines people are happy to wait because they know they’re getting something that’s quality.”
Oak House Deli is open seven days a week. Between Monday and Friday, it is open from 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. On weekends, it’s open from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. Click here to check out the restaurant’s menu.
Photo credit: BCBSM/Oak House Deli