By Natalie Simms
The Bowling family took a leap of faith and opened up their first restaurant at 606 Broad St. Today, Doug’s Deli Downtown is preparing to celebrate four years in business on July 10 with plans to open a second location by the end of the year.
“I bought the business on my 50th birthday,” says Doug Bowling, who owns the restaurant with wife, Julie. “We took it over July 1, 2015…painted, redecorated and opened on July 10.”
Bowling bought the business from Carol Rutledge, who previously operated Great Harvest Bread Co. at the location.
“Back when it was Great Harvest, I came by here one day to ask Carol if she had any opportunities to franchise. She said, ‘no, you can have this place’ and she was serious,” he says. “It just really started from there. My son was running a deli at the time in Carrollton but he was not the owner and had no major stake in the business. So, I went to my son and told him we could go in together, I would buy it, but he would have to run it.”
Bowling couldn’t run the day-to-day operations because he and his wife have another important job. They work with the Winshape Foundation serving as house parents at a Winshape House for foster children for the last 30 years. The couple currently has 10 children in their home.
“I did not feel called to leave Winshape. Opening the restaurant is something we could not have done with our family,” he says. “My son, Ben, and his wife, Whitney, run it daily. We go in early to get things going and then they come in and take over. We help keep the grandkids during the day. But we couldn’t do it without them.”
In his 30 years with Winshape, Bowling has worked a lot with Chick-fil-A and seen first-hand how they run their restaurants.
“I have watched them all these years. We’ve gone to seminars with all the restaurant operators and learned how to grow business. While I’m still learning, I do give Chick-fil-A a lot of credit for helping us with our business,” he says.
It has certainly paid off as Doug’s Deli continues to stand out as an independent in a local market saturated with national chains.
“We are growing by leaps and bounds. We are super blessed to be here. We’ve gotten such great support from Rome,” he says. “I know a lot of people in Rome…been here a while. When we opened, a lot of our friends came and really supported us those first three to four months. But now, we have more than just our friends.
“I figured after a while, our friends would stop coming by but they tell me they can’t get our cheese grits off their mind or they crave our Downtown Turkey sandwich. Now, the food speaks for itself…folks come for the food, not just to be loyal to our family.”
Bowling says its their customer services and fresh, tasty menu that sets them apart.
“Customer service is paramount for us. We want our wait staff to be better than any other place in Rome. If you treat customers well, they will come back,” he says. “And our menu with fresh ingredients…everything is homemade from our dressings to bakery items. That really helps us stand out more than others.”
Bowling’s son Ben serves as general manager and chef. “He makes every soup, salad, dressing and seasonings all from scratch. Every meal is prepared fresh.”
Julie oversees the bakery that features homemade cakes and decorated cookies.
“The deli was the main focus at first and then that led to the bakery. At first, we just did cookies for catering but them we ramped it up with all homemade cakes from our family recipes including those handed down from our grandmothers, sisters or aunts. We have a menu board … in the deli with the specific family member’s name beside the item,” says Bowling.
The next step the deli took was to focus on catering and adding the ‘Supper Club’. Daughter Julianne Bowling oversees these two operations.
“Our supper club is very popular. We offer three options every night either casserole, entrée or the ‘Skinny Doug’ for those more health-conscious folks. We prepare some 20 to 25 meals a night feeding between 80 to 120 people every night of the week (Monday-Friday),” he says.
As for what’s ahead, Bowling says Julianne is ready to step out on her own with a second location.
“I need a few more family members,” he laughs. “But Julianne is interested in opening her own location. We have been looking at options in Cartersville, Calhoun, Adairsville and even the Dalton area. I am leaning towards Cartersville but we don’t know yet. We want to be slow about it…we don’t want to wear out our family members.”
As with everything, Bowling says they are “prayerfully being led by the Lord to do all we’ve done” so they are praying about where to make the next move. He hopes to get the second location up and running by the end of the year or early 2020.
Doug’s Deli Downtown is open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.