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Cardiff Character: Harriett Davies

Harriett Davies came to Wales for love and stayed for life

Harriett Davies owner of the New York Deli

Deli life is hectic, particularly when you’re one of the most established and best loved lunch spots in town. The New York Deli has been a fixture of the High Street Arcade for the past 21 years and for each of those years owner Harriett Davies has been at the helm, guiding the business through the highs and lows.

Harriett is not a Welsh native, it was the love of a Welshman that lured her from the East coast of America to Wales’s chilly shores, and it was the love of Wales itself which has kept her here for nearly 30 years. Sadly, Harriett’s husband passed away shortly after they and their young son Bryce moved to Wales, “We were here 18 months, he found a brain tumour in the February and died in the March, we had one month.” Despite this tragic turn of events, Harriett decided Wales was home for her and Bryce so they stayed. Harriett said, “I had no desire to go back at all because Bryce’s whole family were in Bedwas. Why on earth would I want to leave that and take my son away from an entire group of family in one place? I’ve always loved it here.”

Although Harriett arrived in Wales in 1985, it was 1990 before she set up the deli. Prior to starting her business, she worked with the Welsh Rugby Union through the Welsh Institute of Sport (WIS). Around the time of the 1987 World Cup, Harriett became involved in educating coaches on injury prevention and helped write up the level one coaching course. She continued to teach at WIS and it was during this time she and a friend started thinking of setting up a business together. Harriett remembers, “We thought and thought and I just said flippantly one day, ‘you know they always say there’s nothing like a New York deli’ and we just looked at each other and it was like ping!”

It wasn’t all plain sailing from that moment though, “After one year in business we could have written a book the size of War and Peace on what we didn’t know about the business, you learn as you go along.”

Harriett’s business partner left after six years, so for the last 15 years she has been running the deli with the support of a close-knit staff, “If I wanted clones to work for me I’d hire normal people, everybody that works for me is weird in their own way and that’s what makes it fun.” Her longest serving employee, Mike, did work experience for her when he was just 14, he’s now 27, so aside from the occasional break and other job offer, he has been with her for 13 years. She speaks of her staff with the same motherly tones she uses to talk of her son and it’s apparent they are more of a family than work colleagues.

The New York Deli has managed to survive through tough times, battling not only the recession but also road works which limited access to the High Street Arcade and saw other businesses fail. Harriett owes this survival to her loyal customers and her commitment to quality food and service, “If prices go up on my supplies, I don’t put less in my sandwiches I have to raise my prices because I will not sacrifice on the product.”

Running a deli for over 20 years Harriett has had all manner of strange sandwich requests, “We had quite an error in the menu once, it was supposed to be turkey and cranberry and my printer got it wrong and put tuna and cranberry, I was thinking ‘why are all these people asking me for tuna and cranberry, has there been something on the news I don’t know about?’”

If anyone is ever stuck for what to order in the deli she points them towards the Harriett Special, “My favourite thing was always the cinnamon raisin bagel with cream cheese, ham, and sweet Thai chilli sauce.”

Harriett loves her time in the deli, but now, aged 60, she has become a grandmother which she describes as, “the most fun thing ever know to man,” and is enjoying spending as much time as she can with her young grandson. “All the mistakes you made as a parent, all the time you didn’t have with your children, with my grandson I just clear the schedule and spend every moment having a great time with him.”

Harriett has no regrets about staying in Wales, regarding it as home, having spent the last 30 years living and working here, “It’s been a really good life; I look back on my life and think how lucky I am.”


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