BY HEATHER MARLÉNE ZADIG
For the uninitiated heading out to try the newest — and only — traditional deli in town, it’s important to allow a little extra time. Not from any long lines or lax service, mind you; rather, owners and locals Renata “Toni” Roy-Pinkney and her husband, John Pinkney, preside over Between the Bread Cafe as though welcoming guests into their literal home. They’re hoping customers will pull up a stool at the wooden bar with an Arnold Palmer in hand, accept the offer to taste some new side or marinade of theirs, and stay awhile.
“We take pride in personalizing the sandwich from the ingredients, to building it right in front of you, and even down to the little mint we put in the box,” said Roy-Pinkney to the Hyattsville Life & Times. “This is no sub shop.”
The fledgling eatery is perhaps unique among others of its kind: Picture a fully-formed deli in your favorite aunt’s kitchen. Neighbors drop by just to shoot the breeze and sample fresh crab soup that they smelled cooking from down the street.
Neighbors like Michelle Dunklee, assistant to the chief of the Hyattsville Police Department, who stopped by Between the Bread on her lunch break out of sheer curiosity.
“The chief came in yesterday, and I started salivating; [his lunch] looked so good,” Dunklee said.
By the time she headed back to work, however, Dunklee hadn’t even ordered a sandwich. “I’m too full, now,” she laughed. She’d been offered — and accepted — a meal’s worth of samples.
Though this is the couple’s first brick-and-mortar restaurant, the pair is not at all new to the business of food, nor to business in general. Pinkney and Roy-Pinkney said they ran a catering operation for years but, ultimately, felt it was too impersonal. Roy-Pinkney also teaches a course on entrepreneurship and the arts at the University of Maryland, and she’s even produced a college textbook on the subject, due out in January 2024 from Kendall Hunt Publishing.
“We’re working with Prince George’s County to try to hire people living in Hyattsville and train them with entrepreneurship in mind,” Roy-Pinkney explained. Her hope is that their workers feel empowered to eventually open and manage their own shops. “Our motto with that is ‘Think to leave; think to own.’ We’re in the business of developing people.”
The shop’s homespun, unpretentious vibe belies an intensely purposeful approach, down to the hand-picked and deeply personal decor urging customers to “Take whisks” and the sign proclaiming, “This is my happy place.” It was a conscious choice for Roy-Pinkney to forego design professionals and millennial chic; she is the professional, and she wants people to feel like family. It’s not hokey; it’s home.
But all of that begs the question: Why a deli?
“We used to love to go to all the delis in Silver Spring,” said Roy-Pinkney, indicating her husband. Roy-Pinkney grew up in Baltimore City, where she has fond memories of going to Corned Beef Row with her mother. And despite the expansion of food offerings in Hyattsville over the last decade, she noted that it still didn’t have a proper deli since Franklins (several doors down on Baltimore Avenue) transitioned into a restaurant and brewery decades ago.
Ever community-minded, the duo studied all the food businesses along that section of Baltimore Avenue, hoping to complement, rather than compete, with their neighbors. “We were originally thinking we’d have ‘coffee’ in the name, but dropped it because that’s Vigilante [Coffee Company]’s thing,” said Roy-Pinkney. “We have coffee, but we’re really a deli.” John Pinkney, age 75, was born and raised in Prince George’s County, and the area has always been home for him.
So if you come to Between the Bread, come when you are particularly lonely or hungry, but especially when you are both. Come when you are weary and numb from cookie-cutter corporate chains with rotating employees who butcher your name, when you are cold and longing for something genuine and authentic — a little community, a lot of gab and a slab of homemade peach cobbler with whipped cream, made from scratch.
If you’re this reporter, you’ll come back for the most flawless chocolate chip cookies ever tasted outside of your own kitchen (straight out of the oven, with or without nuts). None of those trendy sea salt flakes that you have to pick off for your kids, not too big, and never hard or undercooked. The kind your favorite aunt made on a rainy day when the world was too much.
Between the Bread Cafe is located at 5105 Baltimore Avenue in Hyattsville. The deli shop is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for both to-go orders and counter-style seating. The cafe also welcomes larger orders of personalized boxed lunches for group meetings and other gatherings. Order in advance in person or by phone, 301.910.0733.