It's A HIT: The Dugout Deli serves up ballpark favorites and baseball memorabilia

Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor

Dugout Deli owner Justin Davidson used to eat, drink and sleep baseball. With menu items like Shortstop Chicken Poppers, Thunder Stix and Bullpen Burritos it seems some things never change -- and that's a good thing.
-Staff photo by Ricky Russell

March 11, 2004 -- Baseball season may not yet be in full swing, but regardless of the season, Dugout Deli is "pinch-hitting all your ballpark favorites" year-round. And we're not just talking hamburgers and hot dogs, but peanuts and popcorn and crackerjacks as well, since the deli is located inside the State Highway 19 Chevron gas station and convenience store.

"We're cheap, quick and convenient," said owner Justin Davidson. "And we work hard to serve a great burger in a convenient store atmosphere. And we're using the same philosophy as baseball -- practice makes perfect."

Davidson, a 1994 Sulphur Springs graduate, grew up on Hopkins County baseball and went on to play college ball at Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, so when he bought the business this past December it seemed only natural to incorporate the great American pastime.

"My dad and I are huge baseball fans," said Davidson, whose father Dave is a national board member for Dixie Baseball Incorporated. "We used to eat, drink and sleep baseball."

And with menu items such as shortstop chicken poppers, thunder stix, bullpen burritos, a double (sausage biscuit with cheese) or a triple (sausage egg and cheese) -- it seems some things never change.

According to Davidson, when he started putting the menu together he knew he wanted the food to be just like Mom would make. So, who better to put in the kitchen than Mom -- Georgia -- herself.

"Nobody makes a breakfast burrito like she does," he said. "It has Mom's special touch. She wont even tell me what she puts in it. And she makes all the cold sandwiches fresh every day."

Menu items aren't the only things baseball-related. The kitchen area is cut back into the wall just like a dugout (hence the name Dugout Deli), and the walls are decorated with souvenir programs from state and World Series games that Davidson's dad has been apart of. Also adorning the walls are autographed baseballs, Nolan Ryan memorabilia and a bat signed by Patrick "Peanut" Williams, who plays with the Cincinnati Red minor league organization.

"Our decorations are great conversation pieces," said Davidson.

The family has always liked to do things together, according to Davidson.

"When this opportunity came along, I knew I wanted Mom and Dad involved," Davidson said. "They're very instrumental in the operation of the store and willing to help me in any way possible to be successful."

He said his parents are from the old school, believing in the concept of hard work, and have passed that on to him.

"They have always taught me that nothing comes easy in life and you have to work hard and try new things in order to be successful," Davidson recalled.

Davidson explained that with his parents' retirement fast approaching, he moved back to Sulphur Springs in 2000 in order to be close to them.

"I wanted to be around to help celebrate their retirement and help take care of them for a change," said Davidson, who served in the U.S. Navy after college. "They provided for me for 20-some-odd years, and now it's my turn. I wanted to provide something fun for them to do. I wanted us all to do this together."

Not many things are as important as baseball, according to Davidson. But one thing that is, is family. And the Dugout Deli is a family operation.

"The store is open seven days a week, and you'll always find one of us here," he said. "And when you walk in the door; you know it's a family environment."

Davidson said that their customers are their friends and when they're cooking "it's like cooking for friends and family every time."

"It's not uncommon for us to be cutting up and aggravating our customers," he laughed. "We have a very personable, easy-going atmosphere. That's what keeps them coming back."

In a "convenient store-rich community," Davidson admits the competition is sometimes fierce and challenging. But he said competition doesn't scare him at all.

"I love it," he said confidently. "It just makes me want to try harder."

Davidson said their prices are what set them apart.

"We're by far cheaper than other places," he said. "But you still get good quality food at a cheap price. And we don't just have food you can get at baseball games, we have a lot more. If we don't have what you want on our menu, just ask -- we might surprise you."

Dugout Deli's special is a burger, fries, 20-ounce drink and a candy bar for only $5.50.

"You cant beat that," he said. "People know where they can always stop by for a good burger and a good baseball story. Here everybody will end up a winner, and we're having a ball."

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