Chicago's T-Shirt Deli celebrates 20 years of serving up shirts like sandwiches

ByJordan Arseneau Localish logo
Tuesday, March 5, 2024
T-Shirt Deli celebrates 20 years of serving up shirts like sandwiches
Owner Ninel Pompushko said she still believes in the concept of The T-Shirt Deli, even if patrons often walk into the delicatessen-themed store to order corned beef or pastrami.The T-Shirt Deli is a custom apparel store that wraps its wares in butcher paper and throws them into a bag with potato chips, just like a deli.

CHICAGO -- The T-Shirt Deli in Chicagos Bucktown neighborhood is celebrating 20 years of creating custom apparel, wrapping it in butcher paper, and serving it to-go as if you were at a sandwich shop. Owner Ninel Pompushko said she still believes in the concept, even though customers often walk into the delicatessen-themed store to order corned beef or pastrami.

"The difference between something being successful, a lot of the time, and just not existing, is not believing in the idea enough," said Pompushko. "People didnt understand; in fact my mom, I think, just got the concept maybe five years ago."

Pompusko said she first found success selling t-shirts with her own funny sayings at the Chicago Pride Festival in 2003. Realizing her sense of humor may not be for everyone, she settled on a brick and mortar store where customers could have t-shirts designed their own way; just like made-to-order sandwiches.

"I had the idea of having people come in and make their own shirts with their own funny sayings," said Pompushko. "It dawned on me that it was a lot like a deli."

Soon she secured a large deli case to house the shirt styles and fonts available for customers and with the help of her best friend, she cleaned out the meat drippings and blood inside. From salami hanging from the ceiling to the pickles in large jars on the shelves, the store soon began to feel like a true deli, minus the bread, meat, and cheese.

"The experience of The T-Shirt Deli is actually coming in here, having a great time, and you leave with a souvenir of the time you had," said Pompushko. "We love making t-shirt dreams come true."

Customers at the T-Shirt Deli choose what apparel and color they want to purchase and then decide what they would like emblazoned on them. A designer maps out on a computer what customers desire and the shirt is then pressed with design, packaged, stickered, and thrown into a to-go bag with a bag of potato chips.

"Its a very thoughtful gift," said Pompushko. "They see that you've noticed them, that you understand them, that you 'get them."

Pompushkosaid she wouldn't be able to run the store without her amazing employees and her wife Denise, who created and updates the delicatessen-themed website. She said her t-shirts are great quality and she still wears ones that were made 20 years ago.

"Food is temporary," said Pompushko. "This lasts forever; it really does."

For more information on The T-Shirt Deli, visit tshirtdeli.com