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Guest Author | 01/10/2023 | Breweries, Wineries & Distilleries, Restaurants

Old World Deli, Oregon Trail Brewery Enjoy New Life in Downtown Corvallis

The Old World Deli and Oregon Trail Brewery aren’t just popular hangouts in downtown Corvallis; they’re a part of the city’s history.

The Old World Deli opened in 1977 at the corner of SW Second Ave. and SW Adams St., just one block from the Willamette River. In time, the deli earned acclaim as much for its filling sandwiches and salads as for its convivial atmosphere—where locals and visitors alike could gather for lunch in a space designed to resemble a European courtyard, complete with an iron gate, streetlights affixed to the walls, and faux roofs, covered in wooden shingles, near the ceiling.

And in 1987, the deli opened Oregon Trail Brewery on site, helping launch the craft beer revolution in Corvallis. Over the following years, some of the state’s top brewers, fresh from completing the fermentation science program at nearby Oregon State University, would craft some of their earliest beers in the space.

A few years ago, the longtime owners of the Old World Deli and Oregon Trail Brewery put the businesses up for sale, hopeful that someone would keep the community institutions running strong. As fate would have it, a Corvallis native stepped in to buy both in 2020 and 2021—and is looking to freshen up the businesses while maintaining the charm that so many love about the space and its offerings. (Yes, that means the European-style courtyard is staying.)

Here’s the story behind how it all happened, along with what’s next for the cornerstones in downtown Corvallis.

Waylon Pickett was born in 1977—the same year the Old World Deli opened—and has fond memories of spending his childhood and young adult years at the deli. “It’s been a part of my life for my whole life,” he says.

Growing up, Pickett recalls a uniqueness about the space that stayed with him for years. “My early memory of this place as a kid was walking in, and immediately, you’re kind of awestruck,” he says. “There’s this big castle-looking door, there are weird paintings on the ceiling, there’s a leg sticking out of a window here, and just funny, fun stuff. And with all the faux European village decor, you feel like, ‘Oh I’m in someplace different now.’ And that’s exciting as a kid.”

Pickett eventually moved away and became an attorney in California, where he worked on wildfire-related cases. But after the North Bay Fires of 2017 and the Camp Fire of 2018, Pickett—who’d moved back to Oregon a few years earlier—desperately craved a career change. “It was unsustainable,” he says. “I just didn’t have enough time in the day or time with my family to pull it off anymore.”

At the time, the deli’s founder and owner Ted W. Cox was quietly looking to pass the business onto a new generation. And then in the fall of 2020, Waylon and his wife Toby purchased the deli—ensuring it would remain a pillar of the community for years to come.

The Picketts took about a year to remodel and work on a variety of projects—upgrading the deli’s electrical work, installing a kitchen hood, and so forth. They even hired J.D. Monroe, a local chef, to spearhead the modernized kitchen; today, the deli prides itself on using fresh-baked bread, smoking its own meats in-house, and crafting sauces from scratch.

Along the way, the husband-and-wife team was cautious not to change too much of what people loved about the eatery. “The goal was to preserve all of the awesome, charming things about the deli that everybody knows and loves—but at the same time, inject some energy into it,” Waylon says.

All that hard work paid off when the deli held its grand reopening on New Year's Eve in 2021.

When the Picketts purchased the Old World Deli, they did so separately from Oregon Trail Brewery—another local institution that opened in 1987 and has shared space with the deli ever since. (For years, visitors have been able to enjoy Oregon Trail’s brews with their hearty sandwiches.)

What set the brewery apart, other than its pioneering spirit in an era when craft breweries were few and far between, was the gravity-fed nature of the brewing system itself. While most breweries have warehouse space for tanks, kettles, barrels, and other equipment, Oregon Trail has always been constrained by its tight quarters. So the brewery essentially stacked its equipment on three floors—starting the beer-making process on the top floor, letting gravity move the brews to the second floor, and eventually kegging the finished products on the ground floor.

From a financial perspective, Waylon admits it’s hard to make any brewery work these days—never mind one with limited distribution around Corvallis and almost none outside city limits. But he grew up with Oregon Trail’s beers and wanted to preserve its legacy as well—so he and his brother J.D. Pickett purchased the brewery just a few months after Waylon and Toby took over the deli.

Waylon and J.D. (himself a former brewer at Oregon Trail) went to work trying to modernize the brewery and make it more efficient, all without losing the charms of the space. That meant keeping the brewery’s copper kettle, which had been acquired decades ago from Hart Brewing (which would eventually transform into Pyramid Brewing Co.), installing a new cooling system, and adding equipment to make expanded distribution possible. “We’re still in the same small footprint, but we can get a lot more beer produced,” Waylon says.

Another change that visitors will notice immediately is the addition of a garage door that affords peeks into the brewery space. “A lot of people have lived here for decades and didn’t know there was a brewery here,” he says.

Not everything is changing, though; the brewery will retain some of its classic recipes—such as a citrus-esque wit and a smooth ginseng porter—while gradually bringing new beers into the fold. And Waylon says it will mostly be crafted with hops from just outside Corvallis and organic grains.

It’s all part of an effort to deepen the Old World Deli and Oregon Trail Brewery’s roots in Corvallis—all while offering something for new generations of visitors. “It’s not just another place to get a sandwich; it’s a special place to be,” Waylon says. “As you get older, you realize it’s not a gimmicky-looking thing; it’s a gathering place for the community.”

Article by Matthew Wastradowski. Photos courtesy of Old World Center. Keep up with Corvallis news, events and happenings by signing up for our email newsletter.

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