It was during the ‘Summer of Love’ in 1967, on a tour of Vancouver Island, when Joe and Linda Runge fell in love with the Comox Valley. The couple, who had emigrated from Germany to Canada in the early-1950s, had been living in California at the time, but had been pondering a move back to B.C. Two years later, they moved to the Valley with their two children.
Joe and Linda brought with them a background in deli and grocery work, so they decided to open a deli in downtown Courtenay. Fifty years later, Runge’s Delicatessen continues to operate at its original location at 347 4th St.
“It was not easy when they started,” said Monika Ferguson, their daughter, who took over the deli in 2005.
Besides the deli, her parents also ran a restaurant next door — the Black Bear, now Michael’s Off Main — but sold it a couple years later.
“It got to be too much,” said Monika, who had worked in the deli when she was a teenager.
Back then, she did not enjoy the work. However, upon returning to the Valley after living elsewhere for several years, she had come to appreciate the deli’s old world charm, the staff and the loyal clientele.
“The time I took over was the perfect time, and now I absolutely love this store,” she said. “When I took over, I was accepted. We have really wonderful customers.”
Some of her out-of-town customers will make a special trip to Courtenay just to visit Runge’s, which carries an assortment of cold cuts, imported cheeses and cookies, European chocolates, licorices, jams and gourmet specialties. The shelves and walls are also adorned with Dutch plates, hand-crafted beer steins from Germany, and an array of Jim Shore collectibles. There’s also greetings cards, and imported napkins.
Artwork by Aline Hoffart adds another element to the deli’s charm.
“We’re a store of grocery, gourmet items and collectibles,” Monika said. “I carry a huge inventory, and it grows every day. A lot of it is unique to us. We’re a lot more international now than we were in the early days.”
The deli’s core products are German, Dutch and Scandinavian, but she’s branched out in recent years to add a Mediterranean flavour.
“It’s a ton of work but it’s fun at the same time,” said Monika, who employs four to seven workers, depending on the time of year. Christmas is especially busy — so full of product that wheelchair users are hard pressed to fit through the aisles.
“It’s basically a true, blue deli,” Monika said. “There’s very few of us left now.”
Runge’s Delicatessen officially turns 50 on April 24.