New York native Debbie Harkness opened the first Famous Ray's deli near Fresno State in January. A second location is coming to Downtown Fresno. Image via Famous Ray's Facebook page
Written by Edward Smith
An Italian deli is expected to fill a vacant Downtown Fresno location, making it the owner’s second location after opening the original near Fresno State only a couple months before the pandemic began.
Famous Ray’s Northside Deli will occupy the former Downtown Deli location at 2621 Fresno St., said owner Debbie Harkness.
There is still a lot of work to go, said Harkness, who is hesitant to put an opening date but thinks November might be possible.
A lease has been signed on the nearly 2,000 square-foot space, but Harkness needs to install a kitchen. She’s currently working with an architect to get the layout completed. Once the downtown location opens, she hopes to also sell some specialty groceries such as pastas, meats and cheeses. Harkness got into the restaurant business because she needed to find an outlet for her love of cooking. She runs the company Assessment, Training and Research, which provides alcohol and drug treatment for addicts. She’s been doing that since 2002.
“I’ve always wanted to do something like this because I really, really love to cook,” Harkness said. “I’m good at it.”
Downtown Deli closed in November 2020. It was open for about eight months.
Originally hailing from New York, she struggled to find sandwiches like she grew up with.
“Everything has flavor,” Harkness said. “It’s big. You got an abundance of everything in there and everything is either handmade or quality meats.”
Harkness prides herself on handmade or locally-sourced food. In addition to the New York-style sandwiches, they also make pastas and soups. Friday and Saturday nights feature prime rib.
She says she makes around 60 pounds of sausage a week. They make their own pastrami, brining it for several days. Their specialty soup right now is a Fresno State corn chowder. She makes her own lasagna and stuffed shells.
She also sources what she can locally. Pasta comes from Fiore di Pasta in Fresno and bread comes from either the Basque Bakery or La Boulangerie.
If she doesn’t think she’ll go through an entire case of vegetables, she said she’ll run down to a farmer’s market or grocery store rather than use less-than-fresh produce.
Covid kept her from doing everything she wanted. One of her big plans was to feature a crop and farmer of the month, with some menu items changing to reflect what was in season, whether it be a tomato, an herb or even a fruit.
She says she has a great pastry chef who makes everything from scratch.
This month she is featuring Fresno State corn.
She opened her location at 1764 E. Barstow Ave. — across from Bulldog Stadium — in January 2020. Her connections with the legal community through her other work really made business pop, she said. It will help when the downtown location opens as well. She developed her own recipes and once her employees have them down she’ll be able to switch over to the operations side of the business because her main business is still behavioral health. But she likes the food because it reminds her of home.
“That’s the way we eat in New York, you make it yourself,” Harkness said. “I’m an Italian and that’s the way we do it, you make everything yourself.”