On a sunny day, the light dances along the surface of Lacamas Lake. It’s the ideal place to watch people with boats, parents blowing up floating devices and dog owners with their panting fur babies on leashes. Sweetwater SUP Rentals rents out kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. It’s also the perfect spot for a picnic.
Fortunately, Tish and Craig Lester opened their deli nearby on the corner of Northeast Everett Street and 35th Avenue. The original idea was to open a pizza-by-the-slice business — a good fit for a restaurant by a high school and a lake — but there were delays getting permits for the pizza oven hood. So, Tish Lester made sandwiches. Wholesale sandwiches (sold to local places such as Hidden River Roasters, Squeeze and Grind, and Washougal Coffee Company) make up a large percentage of the business. Lester told me she has made at least 30,000 sandwiches since the place opened in April 2017. As I talked to her, a young woman was assembling a large order of breakfast sandwiches for Squeeze and Grind. They ordered extra for Camas Days, which began the following day.
The menu doesn’t change much because the chalk marker Lester used to write the menu won’t erase … and because certain groups of regulars would revolt if she took favorite items off the menu. “The Waste Management folks need their Greek pasta salad. They don’t care that the tzatziki is vegan. They just like it,” she told me while I stared at the glass case of fresh salads and pies. “The peanut butter pie is a favorite with everyone. We’ll always have to have it,” she added.
Until you look closer, Pick-Me-Up Modern Take-Away looks like a regular corner deli: cold drinks, pre-made sandwiches and candy bars. Unlike the typical corner deli, however, everything on the menu can be made vegan (using tofu, smoked tofu or tofurky) except the egg salad. Salads, soups and desserts are always vegan. Desserts are also gluten free. “You don’t need animal products in anything to make it delicious,” Lester explained. She also shared that the secret to her gluten-free vegan brownies is to add extra chocolate to compensate for the lack of dairy and gluten. She wouldn’t divulge the secret to her extremely popular peanut butter pie.
The Vegeterranean sandwich, made with fresh garbanzo falafel, tomatoes and cucumbers in a tomato wrap, caught my eye. So did the barbacue jackfruit with mango salsa and avocado — but I chose the Chickpea of the Sea, a tuna-style salad with powdered nori and lemon aioli. Lester knows that veganism hasn’t taken over Clark County. She serves several deli sandwiches with real meat. Turkey sandwiches are the best-selling item on the menu.