At the Filling Station Deli in downtown Hillsdale, there’s a book full of regular customer orders on the front counter. Owner Cindy Bieszk doesn’t need it; she knows them all by heart. But, when she’s not around, something else has to remember her regular’s orders.
“If I’m not here, the kids can look in the book to see who’s got what usuals. There are about 15 if not more. Some of it’s not writing it all down. It’s just, “Do you want your usual?” she said.
Founded in April 1990 by Dave and Jean Mills, the Filling Station has been a Hillsdale staple for 31 years. Bieszk took over on May 1, 2001. She’ll celebrate 20 years of ownership this year.
“I just want to feed people right. That’s actually where the names from; we’re filling you up,” Bieszk said.
Over time, Bieszk has expanded the menu, but she says she hasn’t eliminated anything from the original offerings. A popular special that Bieszk continued is muffuletta sandwiches at the beginning of Lent. Muffalettas are traditional New Orleans sandwiches with Italian meat and spicy olive salad.
“Over 20 years, it’s expanded. We’ve gone from 30 – 40 to 140 pre-orders. Even with the snowstorm this year, my total was lower and we still sold 110,” she said.
But, the biggest change Bieszk has made is location. Two years ago, she moved from the small original deli in the corner of a building on McCollum St. to the current location at 39 N. Broad St.
“It’s been very well received. It’s funny that we’ve been up here for two years now. We were downstairs for 29 years. We’ve had people come in and say, ‘we heard that a new place opened.’ We’re like, ‘well it’s not really new.”
Bieszk said that the COVID-19 pandemic has not affected the deli’s business. At the McCollum St. location, the deli was too small for customers to sit indoors. For the first 29 years of business, Filling Station customers could only buy food for takeout and delivery.
“We expanded curbside. We’re just going to keep that. If someone wants curbside, not a big deal,” she said.
Thomas Bieszk, the owner’s son was 8 years old when she took over the deli. Now, he works as Bieszk’s manager. Bieszk also employs a variety of Hillsdale College football and basketball players.
“It’s nice to have these kids. They’re my kids forever” she said. “It’s a mom thing. It’s nice getting to know the kids, where they’re from, what they’re like. It’s a really lovely thing.”
The highlight of owning the deli is getting to know her customers, Bieszk said.
“It’s nice seeing different faces and meeting the different people, and getting to know the customers whether they’re from the college or they’re locals,” she said.
One of those people she’s gotten to know is City Councilman Robert Socha, who is also one of Bieszk’s regulars. He said he’s a Filling Station regular for a number of reasons.
“I like the owner. She’s got good portions, good service, good food,” Socha said.
A sentiment echoed by Thomas Bieszk, who said the Filling Station’s quality speaks for itself.
“Why shouldn’t they come? We have good food for good value. Ask anyone that comes here. They’ll tell you,” he said.
Looking back over the past 20 years, Bieszk says she wouldn’t change it.
“The time has flown. It really has,” she said. “But, I still wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t love it.”