When Nick Stiles was a kid, his grandmother always asked if he wanted a “sammich,” and now that’s the slogan for his food cart, Gnarly Deli. As active members of Chico’s stand-up comedy scene, Stiles and his partner, Eve Hamilton, make up silly names for their sandwiches, like the Ooo Mommy Dog, and generally have fun while they’re serving customers at various locations around town. Last fall, Stiles—a former ballroom dance instructor and stage hand for local concerts—left his job as an events coordinator for the Downtown Chico Business Association and opened the cart with the goal of eventually upgrading to a brick-and-mortar shop. Until then, you can track Gnarly Deli’s lunchtime locations on Facebook (search “Gnarly Deli”) and look for the cart at the Thursday Night Market, Fork in the Road and other locations, including CN&R’s CAMMIES Finale and Awards Show at the Patrick Ranch Museum on Sunday, April 23.
What’s up with the name?
My mom’s suggestion was to call it “Sandwiches from Around the World.” [Laughs.] That describes what we have, but that’s just not very catchy. Gnarly Deli is kind of hard to say and almost has a rhyme, like a tongue-twister. When you say “Gnarly Deli,” you have to put your mouth in a certain shape. And, you know, most people think of gnarly as a bad thing. Like, “I went into the bathroom and it was gnarly.” We’re using more of the surfer terminology. We’re trying to take the deli to a gnarly level, elevate it in a different way.
How are you elevating your menu?
Like, the Ooo Mommy Dog—it’s just a hot dog, but it’s a Japanese-style hot dog with seaweed and teriyaki sauce, green onions and wasabi mayo. It’s an Asian-fusion thing you can’t find anywhere else. We love normal deli places and have no interest in competing with them. We just take familiar ideas and kick them up a notch.
What else do you serve?
We don’t have a set menu. There have been almost 30 things we’ve rotated through, and we bring back the most popular ones. … Summer is coming up, so we’re going to start doing more cold sandwiches. I’m Norwegian—or, actually, my heritage is Norwegian—and I wanted to do that style, so we made the Gnorske, an open-faced sandwich with lettuce, red onion, tomato, baby shrimp, crème fraîche and lemon. That’s a typical Scandinavian-style, open-faced sandwich.
Do you work comedy into your new business?
We definitely bring comedy to the food. You know, “sammiches,” not sandwiches. It’s just silly and lighthearted, and it lets you know it’s not just a sandwich. There’s no sand.