Father’s Day offers a chance for healing through tears at Andy’s Deli

Updated: Jun. 21, 2021 at 5:24 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Not much has changed at the Andy’s Deli in Columbia’s Five Points neighborhood.

The same red awning covers the door plastered with “Best Of” stickers.

Sunlight pours into the same wood-paneled dining room, filled with photos of years gone by.

Gamecock cheerleaders, athletes, moments, and memories dot the walls, reminding you that you are in a true college town sandwich shop.

And as you step in through the glass door, you will soon hear a familiar greeting that greeted customers for decades before the namesake of this restaurant, Andy Shlon passed at the age of 79.

“Hello, friend.”

The voice today belongs to one of Andy’s sons, Andy Schlon Jr.

Six months after his father’s passing, the younger Andy is keeping the memory of his father alive one sandwich and warm greeting at a time.

Andy Sr.’s widow, his wife of 50 years Carole Schlon waits in the dining room each afternoon. On any given day, you will see her at a table waiting for closing time, talking to customers, and watching her son serve customers in much the same way her husband did for 43 years.

On the day we visited Andy’s Deli, she was reading her new book, “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse” by Charles Mackesy, a touching tale with heartwarming messages, and illustrations.

Simple words, with big meanings.

“It’s different little things,” she said, thumbing through the pages. “It really is a nice book.”

A glance over the counter, and you’ll see Andy Jr., on the phone taking orders or serving up the trademark “Andy’s Special” with dipping sauce, just like his dad used to do it.

The sandwich features roast beef and turkey with swiss cheese topped with bacon bits, on a warm sub roll. The dipping sauce resembles thousand island dressing with a few secret twists.

Traces of Andy Sr. are everywhere. Well wishes line the cooler. The outpouring of support and prayers from customers, past, and present brings some peace. Piece by piece.

“So many cards...” Andy Jr. said taking a break from the furious pace of the afternoon lunch rush. “My Mom’s dining room table is full of cards.”

He said in addition to all the messages of support, the community laid flowers at the door for days after Andy passed in January.

“We had to fill the bucket of water for days to hold the constant supply of flowers from grateful fans and people who Andy touched through the years,” Andy Jr. said.

One sentiment stands out. A cartoon from political cartoonist Robert Ariail is framed near the cash register.

The drawing shows Andy welcomed to heaven the same way he welcomed so many for 4 decades, “Hello Friend.”

“He was a true giver, you know?” Andy Jr. explained reflecting on his Dad’s legacy. “He just lived to make other people happy.”

These days it’s clear. Andy Jr. learned from the best. In one exchange with a customer, Andy Jr grabbed a few pieces of bubble gum from beneath the counter and threw them in the sandwich bag.

The woman, who was picking up her to-go order noticed, “Oh we’re getting bubble gum! That’s neat.”

Andy assured her with a smile as she walked to the exit, “You’re still a kid at heart.”

Moments like these bring some bitter-sweet relief. As anyone who has lost a loved one knows, sifting through the memories can be a sweet struggle.

“43 years of pictures being on top of pictures,” Andy Jr. says as he organizes a box of old photos, some of which were ruined when an air conditioner leaked a short time ago.

The damaged pictures were previously kept underneath the plexiglass countertop near the cash register.

“It’s just a box of memories, you know? You got families that come in that would bring Christmas cards every year, and my Dad would just come and put ‘em up under the glass,” Andy Jr. said.

Andy described how lots of things made their way under that glass over years including customer’s bounced checks.

“If you bounced a check here at Andy’s Deli- he would place your check underneath this glass- and your friends would come in and see it and say, ‘Hey you got a check bounced at Andy’s Deli.’ It was the fastest way to get the checks paid.” Andy said with a smile.

Today, at the counter you will see some keepsakes under the glass countertop, including Andy’s first menu in the Gamecock newspaper from 1978, alongside a greeting card.

“It was a Father’s Day card that I found in his office” Andy explains.

The card features a blue convertible on the front and a saying that certainly applied to Andy Shlon Sr.

“It says, ‘They don’t make ‘em like they used to anymore’” Andy Jr. said in a low voice.

A reality that brings this son to tears.

“It’s just amazing,” Andy said, tearing up. “And I hope he knows, how he touched everybody because it’s an honor to stand back here and listen to the stories that people tell.”

Many of the stories were unknown to Andy Jr. until now. He hears of the countless little deeds of giving and love. How his Dad fed people down on their luck, free of charge.

Reaching the hurting and the lonely, hungry for hope. Andy Shlon gave enough to fill a novel. Which brings us back to Carole’s book, and a message she found on the first page she opened, when she bought it at a local book shop.

“Tears fall for a reason...and they are your strength...not your weakness,” Carole said, her fingers tracing the words in the book.

Those tears are providing strength in the struggle for this family.

“I don’t usually cry...but it’s good to cry every once in a while,” Andy Jr. said, wiping some tears with his sleeve.

Those tears... some happy, some sad...are perfectly welcome for a friend and father whose giving spirit lives here forever.

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