Norm and Marge Lehman opened up their quiet country store at a time when Westlake was an agricultural hub. In fact, the Lehmans were farmers themselves, growing much of the apples, grapes and other small fruits that comprised the bulk of the trade at Lehman's Country Store. That was nearly 80 years ago, and over time, the market expanded even as the farming dried up, with the shop being one of the region’s premier sources of fresh-pressed apple cider and grape juice.
By the time George Bagsarian got his hands on the place, all that was ancient history.
“In 1983, when I was just 22 years old, I purchased the business, and by that time it had changed drastically,” he recalls. “There was no farming going on and the building had been chopped up into smaller spaces.”
Going on 36 years of ownership, Bagsarian has run the shop – now called Lehman’s Deli
(24961 Detroit Rd., 440-871-3445) – for nearly half its life now. It’s small, cramped and strictly carry-out, but that doesn’t deter its myriad fans, who make frequent visits for homemade soups, high-quality sandwiches and small-town appeal.
In the morning, bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches fly out the door. At lunchtime, house-made soups like chicken noodle, roasted red pepper and Swedish meatball, loaded with meatballs, pasta and sour cream, join a wide array of salads.
We’d be here all week if we went through all the sandwiches (there are roughly 100 different options on offer), but they star meats like turkey, corned beef, pastrami and roast beef that are all made in-house. On the list are cold and hot deli sandwiches, over-stuffed subs and wraps, hot and satisfying Philly cheesesteaks, and meaty Black Angus burgers.
But until now, the only place to sit down and enjoy any of the grub was anywhere but here, other than at an outdoor picnic table.
“I always wanted to get bigger and do something different,” says Bagsarian. “A bakery in our building moved out a few years ago and the space has been empty.”
That space once again will be home to a bakery, but this one will bear the Lehman’s brand. The deli has brought on a bakery manager to run the sweet and savory operation, which eventually will produce all the breads for the deli. New kitchen equipment and fresh elbow room will allow the cooks to expand the food menu as well, especially in the healthy foods department.
“The plan is to become self-sufficient and use the bakery to make the bread we use for our sandwiches,” Bagsarian explains. “We don’t want to take on too much at once and not be able to do it to the best of our ability.”
The extra legroom means that for the first time there will be a small dining room, which will increase the seating from zero to about 35.
Customers should expect the dust to settle in a couple of months. Until then, it’s business as usual.
Sign up for Scene's weekly newsletters to get the latest on Cleveland news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.