Auburn eateries look for ways to revive lagging lunch sales

By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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Even going out to lunch is falling victim to the recession, with would-be diners opting more frequently to grab a sandwich at home or take a bag lunch to work. Numerous Auburn eateries are feeling the slowdown — and some are adding specials and reduced-price items to bring in customers. In the Auburn Town Center, Flour Garden Bakery’s business has remained steady but shift supervisor Elise Neal has noticed some differences, including that customers are tipping less. “So that is an obvious indication of how (the economy) is doing,” she said. She’s seeing other signs, too. “We’ve always sold soups frozen, but it has gotten immensely popular recently,” Neal said. “Instead of taking a hot soup home, you can buy it frozen and get it cheaper.” Downtown, The Big Salad is adding some economy-friendly choices, including an option to downsize orders. “Now on several of the items, we’re offering two sizes,” owner Danielle Nelson said. In fact, Nelson has seen an increase in sales of soup, which she attributes to the lower price and choice of sizes. The eatery has a couple of soup options daily, with prices ranging from $3 for a cup to $6 for the largest portion. “This is our fourth winter and I’ve never seen the sales volume of soup that we’ve seen this year,” she said. Nelson is also bringing back wraps, which were on the menu when she first opened the café. Choices will include a wrap of the day. “It is a price point we can bring in that’s lower,” she said. Then there are group specials — smaller portions of a variety of things. “It’s four cups of soup, two wraps, two half sandwiches and four small salads for $40,” she said. “It’s 12 items, so they can mix and match whatever they want.” Customer Juli Marks, who stopped in Tuesday for a sandwich, said she is definitely cutting back on going out to eat. “We’re out today because we live in Grass Valley and came to Auburn to do some things and needed lunch,” she said. “We’ve become very careful about going out (to eat). We’re choosing to go out to breakfast or lunch instead of dinner.” Across the street, A-Town Deli is seeing fewer customers, too. “I’d say we’re down 60 or 70 percent, probably, in last couple of months,” owner Don DeVries said. “It has really hit hard.” Don and Kathy DeVries have always offered two sizes of sandwiches — currently $6.50 for a whole sandwich or $4.50 for half. The menu includes specials, and discount coupons are available this week. “We’ve got a table set up this week at US Bank,” DeVries said. Visitors to the display can pick up coupons for $1 off a $5 purchase and $2 off on a $10 purchase, he said. Togo’s on Bell Road has seen about a 25 percent slowdown over the previous year, general manager David Barnes said. “We have had a few specials, but that is what we do yearly anyway,” Barnes said. “In Auburn, the car dealerships were our main source of income. With car dealerships closing, it has really hurt business.” At Old Town’s Beach Hut Deli, owner Jason Bazzaroni hasn’t introduced lunch specials, although he doesn’t discount the possibility. “Because Beach Hut has so much food, it’s hard to reduce the cost. But we have drink specials — beer specials and stuff,” he said. “… We also do specials on catering, so that the bigger the order, the better the deal.” The Journal’s Gloria Young can be reached at gloriay@goldcountrymedia. com or comment at