Smuggler’s Deli Sandwiches (Photo courtesy of Smuggler’s Deli Facebook)

Smuggler’s Deli Sandwiches (Photo courtesy of Smuggler’s Deli Facebook)

Secret sandwich ‘ghost kitchen’ sneaks into downtown Auburn

Smuggler’s Deli started as a way to keep Vinifera Wine Bar & Bistro afloat.

Smuggler’s Deli is more of an idea than a physical place. You will not find a sign announcing its presence, but it does exist.

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, the secret sandwich “ghost kitchen” can be found inside Vinifera Wine Bar & Bistro in downtown Auburn.

It’s an idea that started as a creative adaptation to pandemic restrictions and a way to keep her business afloat. The idea will be continued as pandemic restrictions lighten, according to Vinifera owner Brittiany Karlson.

When indoor dining was put on hold in the state, Karlson and her staff realized the more upscale food that Vinifera typically produced did not travel very well for customers who could now only be served through pick-up and delivery.

That is when she came up with the idea to pivot toward selling sandwiches, soups and salads. This is how Smuggler’s Deli was born.

Karlson said the name “Smuggler’s Deli” was intended to play off the current pandemic restrictions on restaurants and to make customers feel like they were taking part in something “sneaky,” like drinking in a speakeasy during the prohibition era of the 1920s.

The menu carries that theme even further with sandwiches that are named after famous gangsters, smugglers and criminals from history.

Karlson pitched the idea to her kitchen staff. Head Chef Mondo Takahashi and Sous Chef Shawn Saucier were eager to start something new and to be proactive to adapt to a food service industry that had almost fully pivoted to take-out and delivery.

“As a chef right now, you have to be adaptable,” said Takahashi.

Making the switch from a full high-end wine bistro menu to making relatively humble, but delicious, sandwiches and soups was not initially easy.

Saucier said adding a whole new Smuggler’s Deli menu basically doubled the overhead costs. However, the team saw the vision and knew they could make simple but well-executed sandwiches that people could get excited about.

The kitchen staff expressed their appreciation to have an owner that supported them and allowed them to be creative in the way they designed the menu and perfected the sandwiches they offer.

The deli became a hit. Many people came to try the new menu and to support Vinifera, according to Karlson. With the only marketing or signage being done digitally, she said most of their traction was gained via word of mouth.

The Smuggler’s Deli uses the tagline “snitches get sandwiches,” a joke that rings true for many who have spilled the beans on the hidden deli that has become one of Auburn’s worst kept secrets.

Karlson said the idea of Smuggler’s Deli along with the tireless execution by her staff has “completely saved” the business and allowed her to keep everyone on her staff employed through the pandemic.

The team believes part of their success is not only the general accessibility of sandwiches and soups, but also because there are not many stand-out sandwich options in the area.

“We feel like we are bringing something to Auburn that it didn’t have,” Karlson said.

Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in Business

Robert Toomey, CFA/CFP, is Vice President of Research for S. R. Schill & Associates on Mercer Island.
News of market volatility has felt like a pinball machine lately | Guest column

Webster’s dictionary defines the word volatility as “characterized by or subject to… Continue reading

Dick’s Drive-In to open new location in Federal Way

This will be Dick’s ninth burger restaurant; plans to open in 2023.

(Left to right) Bill, Nina and Tom Contoravdis, co-owners of Athens Pizza and Pasta, pose for a photo in front of their restaurant that is set to re-open for take-out on Friday, April 1. Photo by Henry Stewart-Wood/Sound Publishing
After 16 months, Athens Pizza and Pasta re-opens on April 1

A fire forced the restaurant to close after 40 years of business in Auburn.

Auburn has embraced Sea Axe, the first ever axe-throwing range ever to settle in the city, as this band of customers demonstrates. Photo courtesy of Duke Managhan
Business partners hit the bullseye with Auburn’s first axe-throwing range

At first, Duke Managhan and his close friend and business partner, Vance… Continue reading

Photo by Robert Whale/Auburn Reporter
Zola’s Café owner Matt Noesen is ready for normal times and business to resume at his downtown Auburn eatery.
Downtown Auburn cafe among businesses awaiting the return to ‘normal’

After all this time, Matt Noesen’s feet and back ache, and the… Continue reading

Robert Toomey, CFA/CFP, is Vice President of Research for S. R. Schill & Associates on Mercer Island.
Volatility and disciplined planning in 2022’s stock market | Guest column

The stock market in January experienced significantly increased volatility. In the first… Continue reading

SeaAxe Throwing is coming to downtown Auburn

‘It’s kind of like darts on steroids,’ says co-owner.

Snoqualmie Casino. Courtesy photo
Kirkland-based company sues to challenge ‘tribal gaming monopoly’ in Washington

Company called the state’s policy an “erroneous application of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.”

Robert Toomey, CFA/CFP, is Vice President of Research for S. R. Schill & Associates on Mercer Island.
The forces behind our current COVID-induced inflation | Guest column

Recent inflation numbers have been quite high and at levels not seen… Continue reading

Robert Toomey, CFA/CFP, is Vice President of Research for S. R. Schill & Associates on Mercer Island.
The ‘year end’ elements of financial planning | Guest column

With the end of the year fast approaching, we remind clients that… Continue reading

Airhouse Adventure Park is opening its doors to the public on Jan. 7, 2022, at 1101 Outlet Collection Way. Photo courtesy of Airhouse Adventure Park.
Multi-activity adventure park to open in Auburn

Airhouse Adventure Park will offer laser tag, trampolines and dodgeball among other activities