By Gideon Bradshaw

Diana Schneider was grilling sausages and keeping an eye on two pots of soup in the kitchen of her restaurant in Monongahela.

One was beef barley. The other was a bit of an experiment.

“I have no recipe, but I figure we’re going to go with it, see how it goes,” she says.

She meant the Tuscan soup – which is popular in the United States because of Olive Garden – she was making. That improvisational, do-it-yourself style isn’t unusual for Schneider, who opened Di’s Hometown Deli, 218 W. Main St., at the beginning of this year. It had been her dream for years to have her own deli, even if it’s her first time running a restaurant.

So far, it’s exceeded the expectations of the Bethel Park native, who now lives outside Finleyville in Union Township. She says she already gets regulars – including one woman who worked in the same place years ago when it was Friendly’s Bakery – and that businesses in town help to promote each other.

She names two of her sandwiches when asked about the most popular items from her menu: “We have the best Reuben, she says. “And the roast beef, which we call The Downer.”

The sauerkraut is key in the Reuben.

“I don’t just open the sauerkraut and put it on,” Schneider says. “I cook that all day long, so it’s a good sauerkraut.”

Both of those go for $9.75. Most prices are in the $8 to $10.

“We go through almost five gallons of wedding soup a day,” she says.

In a display case about halfway back, cookies and the like from Pastries-A-La-Carte, a bakery in Pleasant Hills, are laid out.

Before she opened the deli, Schneider had a store in the same building. At the far back, she still displays a wall of Penguin and Steeler shirts and jackets for sale. There are neat arrangements of hats and other team gear on shelves.

The main seating area in front is a simple L-shaped counter. There are a couple of high tables at the front window, whence patrons can see out onto the street.

Schneider says she did much of the remodeling work herself, with the help of her friend Julie Farthing, who owns Julie’s Hair Haven, a nearby salon.

“We did a lot of moving,” Schneider said.

Her husband, Rick, a union carpenter, did the necessary electrical and gas work, she adds.

Schneider’s mother, Linda Vietmeier, helped clean and painted for the new venture.

“I’m her gofer,” jokes Vietmeier, of Jefferson Hills. She was visiting the deli on recent Monday, while Schneider was cooking soup and doing other prep work for the week.

So far, the deli is a family affair. Schneider’s daughter, Shaylyn, Shaylyn’s boyfriend and Schneider’s nephew, Daniel Vietmeier, all work at the deli. It’s fitting for someone who first learned cooking from people in her own family, namely on her mother’s side, which traces its heritage back to Abruzzo, on Italy’s Adriatic coast.

“That’s how I learned,” she says. “My grandma and her sister, my aunt Wilma.”

Di’s Hometown Deli is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. The phone number is 724-292-1001.

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