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Lunchbox Deli looks back at past year of new ownership

It was a little over a year ago that Donna Laster, then unemployed, noticed an ad for a local business for sale, an East Brainerd restaurant called Lunchbox Deli.

Having worked in the advertising business, she at that point knew nothing about the food industry. But something told her this could be the answer she was searching for, she said.

Laster teamed up with her sister-in-law, Leasha Price, who was also looking for a different occupation than her desk job.

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Though delving into the food industry was no easy task, Lunchbox Deli co-owners Leasha Price, left, and Donna Laster have learned the tricks of the trade and successfully completed their first year of business.

Other than her love of cooking, Price didn’t have experience running a restaurant either. After gaining advice from family and friends that did have experience, the two set out to master the restaurant industry.

“Before we knew it everything fell into place and we were signing on the dotted line,” laughed Laster. “We were pretty overwhelmed during the first few weeks. It took every bit of both of us to run the restaurant.”

Laster and Price began their new jobs as restaurant owners by working 12-14 hours every day. They said they were thankful that the former staff stayed on, and that they learned a lot of about the restaurant from them.

It took a couple of months, but both the new business owners said they began to feel comfortable by simplifying their daily processes and learning new tricks in efficiency.

“As we learned everything, we started to make changes and made it more our own,” said Laster.

She and Price rebranded the restaurant with a vibrant red logo and splashy, eye-catching paintings on the walls, some painted by Laster herself. The duo also added a website and began working with social media to promote the restaurant.

Having inherited the menu from the previous owner, they tweaked the recipes just enough to make them unique, they said.

“Everything we make is extremely fresh,” said Laster.

“It’s all good and it’s all homemade,” added Price.

The menu includes deli sandwiches (made with Boar’s Head meat), wraps, soups, salads and baked potatoes along with a variety of side items from pasta salad to chips to french fries to fresh fruit. Lunchbox Deli also specializes in catering both on- and off-site, with the most popular catered item being the Basic and Deluxe Lunch Boxes.

“The food is always good,” said regular customer Bruce Young. “They’ve catered over 125 different [lunches] for me and their catering is really good. The place is clean and they are really friendly.”

Catering can also be customized, said Price. The restaurant recently catered a 50th wedding anniversary at which they served food that wasn’t necessarily on their regular menu, though they did use their usual ingredients.

Both Laster and Price said they would like to grow the catering portion of their business, which includes on-site breakfast meetings for area businesses or groups.

As their first year as business owners comes to a close, Laster and Price said if they had it to do all over again, they would.

“Having a restaurant is something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Price. “Having the opportunity to do what I want to do — not everybody gets the opportunity to go into business for themselves.”

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