Richard Kriegl took over Bert’s Deli from his mom in 2004 and has since been working to keep that same quality welcome for anyone that comes through the shop. (Joelle St-Gelais/Terrace Standard)

Skeena Voices | A special stop

Bert’s Deli owner Richard Kriegl runs the shop to keep his mom’s generosity alive

As one of the longest-running businesses in Terrace, Bert’s Delicatessen still has its doors open based on its foundation of generosity set by its previous owner.

Richard Kriegl took over in 2004 after his mom, Hildegarde, ran the shop for 36 years and he strives to keep her spirit alive through every customer that comes in.

“She was so positive, just a friendly personality to be around… she didn’t really care about the dollar, she just wanted to make sure that you had the best lunch ever,” Richard says. “She was very generous, and maybe she didn’t always remember your name but she definitely knew your sandwich.”

The deli was originally opened in July 1967 by an Italian immigrant named Bert, who employed Hildegarde. She took over the deli that following year in 1968.

Since then, the shop became a welcome place to visit in Terrace as Hildegarde worked to make the deli as European as possible by carrying specialty items from across the Atlantic and serving quality meats and cheeses which often had people lining up for lunch. She would also donate food to different causes in Terrace, doing her best to keep everyone happily fed.

Richard was born the same year that Hildegarde decided to start running the deli and grew up within the business. He’d watch how his mom interacted with all who came by, eager to make their day better. She’d listen to people’s stories, asking about their families or what kind of fish they caught the day before and would even add on a bit of extra meat if she thought they needed it.

“The bigger the person that came in, the bigger the sandwich was,” says Richard with a laugh. “There would be these big logger guys so sometimes it was a bigger sandwich twice the size because she knew she had to feed this big man.”

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For Hildegarde, the deli was an opportunity to connect with her community. Following the events in Germany after the Second World War, she came to Canada in hopes of a more peaceful place to call home. Her sister had settled in Kitimat and convinced her to move to the area as she spoke about the beauty of the mountains and its welcoming people.

When she moved to Terrace and took over the deli, Richard says his mom’s love for the area kept her going as the town continued to grow. Although his siblings did come in to help, he’d often be the one that would wake up early to help his mom set up for the busy day ahead and learned to love those chaotic deli rushes.

Unsure of what to pursue as a career, Richard went off to study sciences at the University of Victoria until his father became diagnosed with cancer in 1988. He decided his family need him and returned to Terrace to do his part.

“I just didn’t know what to do while going to university so I stayed to help out at the shop but then in 1999, my dad passed away and then it was full time working at the deli to help out mom,” Richard recalls. “I had to help her get through this tough time as well, plus there were the struggles of taking over a business as my mom got older and having to work that out.”

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For the next few years, he worked beside her to learn everything he could about Bert’s Deli. Hildegarde had established genuine connections with all the suppliers so he tried to keep that up as the world modernized and changed.

But in 2004, Hildegarde passed away unexpectedly. Terrace also entered into a bust after a boom and he started questioning how he could find the means to continue.

“Terrace became a ghost town because there was really nothing happening, a lot of people were moving away and businesses were closing,” says Richard. “I found it tough because mom was Bert’s Deli and it was her willingness to help others that made it what it was.”

He says the years that followed were very difficult as he struggled to maintain that deli identity his mom had created while also trying to keep it afloat. For him, the most painful days were when customers would come in asking to see his mom and he’d repeatedly have to break the sad news.

“Many people were expecting mom when she wasn’t there anymore, so we had a bit of a rough transition especially with the downturn in economics in town,” Richard says. “I told myself every day that I got to go to the deli, I need to keep it open and to have income obviously. Maybe that was good in the end though because it also distracted me a little bit through those tough times.”

And he notes that this February will be a particularly challenging month as it’s the anniversary of her passing.

“I just really hope that she’s happy that the store is still here, carrying out her traditions,” Richard says. “It’s a time of memories and maybe not the best memories… but then there are great memories that mom offered for so many people, like enhancing their hike or fishing trip with a stop at the deli.”

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Since taking over Bert’s Deli, Richard says he makes sure to keep those specialty products on shelves that have people travelling from across the region for. During Christmas, he still upholds deli expectations and brings in unique items that can be found nowhere else. A lot of their original meat suppliers have since retired but he’s connected with others to ensure his customers keep coming back for the freshness.

As Terrace resurfaces and industry triggers a bigger boom in the making, Richard says he wants to maintain his mother’s generosity by continuing to serve those massive sandwiches Hildegarde prepared.

And for those many new faces in town, Terrace’s history can literally be tasted as his deli notably stands in the same location it has since it first opened in the ’60s.

Part of his upkeep has been partnering with White Goat Coffee, a local coffee roaster company in town, to extend his deli into a partial café where he offers hot and cold drinks alongside pastries and authentic Italian gelato. His business is back in full swing with busy lunch rushes every day but like his mother always did, Richard makes sure to take the time to check in on how his customers are doing.

“It wasn’t until maybe a few years ago where I finally felt it was my deli as well… now I feel really good being there, helping out people and feeding them,” he says.

“I have so many people who will return to Terrace and make the deli their first stop to tell me they can’t believe we’re still here… and it’s because I love it like my mom did.”

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For Richard Kriegl, upholding his mother’s traditions at Bert’s Deli is what he believes has kept his business going in Terrace. (Joelle St-Gelais/Terrace Standard)

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