By Kathleen Knowles
Who doesn’t love a deli? The answer to that question can be found in every city in America. Delis are one of the most popular types of restaurants around. It would be unusual to be unable to find a deli in any town. The city of Port Huron is no different. Chef Shell’s is located right down the street from Sperry’s Movie Theater at 324 Superior Mall.
Michelle Wrubel was born in Flint, Michigan, graduated from Saint Clair County Community College, and married Mark Wrubel. The couple has been in the restaurant business for many years. Shopping at a craft show, Shell purchased a raspberry vinaigrette for Mark from the company. It was a favorite of his. After becoming a regular customer, they heard the company was for sale and they decided to buy it in 1998. It included the purchase of the recipes, the rights, and the know-how to make the products. Also included were salad dressings, dip mixes, seasoning blends, barbecue, and hot sauces. They have remained a favorite of patrons throughout the years and can be purchased at Chef Shell’s or on the internet.
Shell and Mark started a soup and salad delivery service. They rented a kitchen on Stone Street behind Port Huron Hospital and began a lunch delivery service for physicians and people who wanted to eat healthy foods. They started out with a very simple menu. Food was delivered or could be picked up. At the time, it was simply a kitchen with no facilities to sit down and eat. In fact, when people walked in, they entered an office!
As its reputation grew, people began to ask to have their weddings catered. That led to the business growing into a full-size catering company. When AT&T went on strike, Chef Shell’s catered their three shifts for the duration of the strike. Even though Shell and Mark began with the lunch service, the catering became the mainstay of what they did.
They soon outgrew the small kitchen they were in. Bucks, a business facility on 24th Street, became available. Shell and Mark purchased it and moved to their new location. It provided them with a bigger kitchen, more space with the extra added bonus of a small diner, with stools and a sandwich counter. Donuts were added to the menu. They would later become known as the best donuts in town!
Most of the sandwiches offered today at Chef Shell’s were on the original menu. It was important to Shell and Mark to provide their customers with healthy choices people could enjoy. What demographics do they aim for? In the catering business, it is the women. “Women are the check writers,” Shell said. “They are usually the ones who need a party catered. With our donuts, it’s the men. Every hard-working man loves donuts and coffee. They like to take those white boxes of delicious pastries to the different customers they call on.”
If one is thinking of catering to a party or a wedding, Chef Shell’s will customize a menu for them. Some of the most popular entrees are oven-roasted chicken and pork tenderloin. They will also do ethnic food choices. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, when someone comes in with a requested menu, we can do it,” Shell said. They will provide a server on site if needed, or they will drop the food off on site if preferred. If a customer would like to have a private party catered in their home, that service is available as well. “Services are based on what the customer wants,” Shell explained.
Chef Shell’s also has dine-in and take out services. Patrons can call in their orders, and they will be ready for pick up. As the business continued to grow, the 24th Street location soon became too small and cramped. It led to the purchase of their current location where there is a nice sized diner for eating in. If choosing to dine in, one will be in for a pleasant experience. The decor is very eye-catching. Shell explained how the design of the deli’s diner was chosen. “Mark is the interior design man. The sponge painted walls is a design we both like. The green is actually the same color as our kitchen and the orange is the color of our breezeway. So, it is like we’ve made this our home. The pictures on the walls are ones that were hanging at home. The cupboard has been in Mark’s family forever. We built the counter, and we searched for and selected the table and furnishings. The antique-styled tin roof is something we wanted to do at home, but weren’t able to, so it was a good spot for that.” What the Wrubels have done is to make it an extension of their home in order to extend that homey atmosphere to those who come in to dine. After all, they consider their customers part of the Chef Shell’s family!
Chef Shell’s opens at 5:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday and closes at 5:00 p.m. On Sundays, it is open from 5:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The breakfast cook comes in at 7:00 a.m. From 5:30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. donuts and coffee are available. Breakfast is served in the diner for customers.
Shell revealed that they have 30 to 35 employees at any given time, many of whom are part-time. Considering the hours of operation, it is understandable why they are needed. Patrons will be surprised to know that the bakers come in approximately at 8:00 at night and bake until 5:00 to 6:00 in the morning! The pastries are fresh every morning, and if one arrives early enough, they will still be warm! “There are about 15 or 16 established businesses which get those pastries every morning,” Shell explained. “Our first driver comes in at 4:30 a.m. and loads the pastries in the truck to deliver them as far as Lakeport Market and to Wadhams Mobile station. We deliver to three Speedy Q’s, Exxon which has a couple of stations, as well as BP. Ultimately, the drivers have 15 locations to which they deliver, including both hospitals in the city. Chef Shell’s also provides dinner at a senior residence, Port Haven Manor every night. On weekends and during the summer months, they cater to weddings and open houses.
When asked what Chef Shell’s signature items are, Shell proudly revealed, “Our pulled pork has to be one of them. We are also known for the best darn donuts in Saint Clair County.” She also pointed out their homemade soups are popular and receive a lot of comments. They have a loaded baked potato soup and a ham and corn chowder soup for starters. These soups don’t come out of a can! Every one of them is made from scratch!
Customers are important to Shell and Mark, and they listen to their suggestions. One of the biggest requests is vegetarian and vegan choices. The menu contains a soup choice as well as a separate vegetarian menu. Gluten-free choices can also be enjoyed. Although, there is a small amount of fried food, (chicken tenders, french fries, hamburgers) the goal is to serve healthy food. The salads contain Romaine lettuce, spinach, shredded red cabbage, carrots, and head lettuce. Even the sandwiches contain healthy quality choices. “We pride ourselves on that,” Shell stated.
When it comes to catering, Shell said she loves planning the menu. They will adapt to just about anything a customer wants. They can put forth exact food choices, or she will plan a menu for them. By closing at five, they also host after-hours parties for civic groups right there in the diner. On the weekend after closing, there have been many bridal showers as well as baby showers. Dinners can range from $10.00 to $18.00 with no additional charge for the room!!
One of their very appealing services is personal delivery. Imagine sitting at home, it is now noon, and there is nothing in the refrigerator that looks appetizing. No problem!! Call Chef Shell’s Monday through Friday between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Give them your order, and they will deliver it directly to your home! How’s that for service?
So, whatever your needs, Chef Shell’s can provide them. Whether they be a simple morning donut, soup, salads, sandwiches, home delivery, or a catered party, don’t hesitate, call Chef Shell’s. They can provide your every need!
Blue Water Contributing Writer
Kathleen Knowles is a life-long resident of Port Huron and a 1973 graduate of Port Huron High School. After attending St. Clair County Community College, she has worked for credit unions all of her life as well as a professional dog show handler, known for handling Pekingese. Kathleen has been writing fiction for years as a hobby, having posted many stories online.
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Disclaimer: Blue Water Healthy Living is an online magazine located in Port Huron, Michigan. Our purpose is to promote healthy living by showcasing the Blue Water Area, its people, issues and surroundings. This online magazine is devoted to providing healthy living related stories, local happenings, and commentary. Often inspiring and uplifting, our stories come from our heart and soul to promote the enjoyment of a more fulfilling Blue Water Area lifestyle. The material on this web site is provided for informational and amusement purposes only and is not to be confused with any medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of Blue Water Healthy Living.