We chat with the owners of Lambo's Deli ahead of their new opening

When Lambo's Deli opened next to Trinity Bellwoods Park during the pandemic, the city went wild for Italian deli sammies. Now, they're headed east to continue their sandwich empire in Leslieville. 

Owners Justin Leon and Cristobal Bascuñán in front of the new Leslieville location

When Lambo's Deli opened in 2020, it was a bright light in a dark time. As restaurants shuttered and friends carefully selected their bubble, the Italian deli spot offered a place to get a great takeout sandwich and enjoy it (safely) at home or just down the road at the conveniently located Trinity Bellwoods Park.

Now, after three years of cranking out some of Toronto's best sandwiches, it's time to expand. Co-owners Justin Leon and Cristobal Bascuñán chose a spot on Queen Street East, in the former home of Mira Mira, and following a summer of recipe tweaks, they're finally ready to open. 

We chatted to the owners to find out why they've opted for the eastend and what deliciousness we can expect from the new location.

Lambo's Deli Italian Combo

What was the inspiration for Lambo's Deli?

Justin: "We didn't really find — especially around that time — that there was a neighbourhood Italian deli, bodega-style-sandwich place. We were inspired by going to places, primarily in New York, but really anywhere in the eastern seaboard in the States, where you could just go to any corner store, or one of the great Italian delis that they have there, and get a high-quality Italian deli meat sandwich. We just wanted to bring that sort of concept to Toronto as we thought it was lacking.

Co-owners, Justin Leone and Cris TK, outside Lambo's Deli Leslieville

It just so happened to coincide with the pandemic, so the way that people were consuming food was changing. Having a casual, fast-paced, takeaway corner spot with more of a neighbourhood-friendly vibe — I feel like it all came together and really worked at that time."

Were you surprised by the success of the original location of Lambo's Deli?

Cristobal: "When Jay and I met, I came on board as a consultant. I was there from the beginning of the soft opening to our first official day. I was definitely super surprised from that moment onwards, how it just seemed to take off. I thought maybe it would be a flash in the pan, just an exciting soft opening. But then it continued and has been growing since."

Did Lambo's Deli spark a trend for sandwich shops?

J: "A lot of restaurants and people in the industry at that time, were scrambling to figure out what to do when everything got shut down. Our sort of operation was tailor-made for that environment because we began in the pandemic. I think a lot of people saw what they were doing, and they were like, 'Oh, maybe we could do something that's more takeout-focused — something that travels really well.' We've seen a bunch of competitors pop up and still continue to. But we've also seen some come and go. 

We're fortunate enough to be in a position where we feel like we still have a pretty loyal customer base. We're constantly expanding and growing and getting busier and busier three years later, so we feel like it maybe did start a bit of a trend. I mean, that's not to say that we're the original sandwich shop, but we definitely saw a trend happening."

Lambo's Deli Mortadella sandwich

How much has the menu at Lambo's Deli changed since you opened?

C: "We're always tweaking things. Jay and I work on the idea that everything can be improved upon. Our current menu iteration that we have right now has always had these minor adjustments that we feel have made our product better. Since we've opened, in terms of sandwich types, we've gotten rid of a couple and we've added a couple more. With the opening of this new location, we'll have a few more options to offer as well."

J: "A couple of months ago, before we opened this place, we went to New York. We went to like 30 different sandwich places there to see what we liked and what we didn't like, just to refresh our taste buds and get inspiration for what we wanted to do differently. That helped inform a few menu revisions and tweaks that we're going to be doing at this location and at the other location." 

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Why did you want to open a new location in Leslieville? 

"Leslieville was always on our radar because it's a very tight-knit community with a lot of eastend pride. People here seem to really support local businesses. It's also really close to a lot of the film industries, so we can expand the catering side of the business, which has steadily grown since we started. It's also close to the beach — people have already been taking our sandwiches to the beach. So we're kind of like a perfect location that is close to all of those things. We can also cast our net for delivery apps and reach more of the city."

What can we expect from this new Lambo's Deli?

C: "We've got some new ones and a couple of sandwiches that have been tweaked quite a bit. Our Mortadella is going to get a total reworking: This one's going to have arugula, lemon-whipped ricotta, giardinara, pickled fennel and pickled red onions. We're going to add a Turkey Bacon Club, but sort of Italianize it, you know, provolone cheese, roasted garlic, aioli. And then our Roast Beef, we've just worked on a few tweaks here and there. It's still going to be the one that everyone's used to, but the sauces have been reworked and the toppings too.

[At the old location], we were doing specials and features on a regular basis. We eventually got too busy, and the space wasn't very conducive to making especially hot sandwiches. But here we have a full kitchen. Hopefully, down the line, we can add features as permanent fixtures."

J: "This location is more of a commissary test kitchen, so we can have fun and experiment with new ways of working on recipes. It just gives us a lot more creative freedom."

Lambo's Deli Tuna sandwich

What are your favourites?

C: "They kind of rotate for me, but I personally like the Turkey Pesto with the bomba — or what we call the Calabrian chilli spread. 

J: "I like the Roast Beef and the Tuna. [The Tuna] is weird — I feel like that's a sandwich that you wouldn't be able to get anywhere else. We only use the highest quality tuna; a lemon caper aioli; we put the chilli spread on there; a lot of nice salsa verde, but it's like a lemon parsley condiment, so it's really fresh and light. We have a bit of radish in there for crunch.

We put a lot of time and effort into the little things here. All of our vegetables are roasted in-house, most things are pickled here, and spreads are made daily. We just move through so much volume that everything is essentially as fresh as it could possibly be."