World-traveling sisters become Elizabethtown residents, co-owners of landmark eatery

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By Robert Villanueva

Still in their 20s, Sofia and Martina Abubakr have traveled the world and now find themselves in Elizabethtown where they plan to put down roots while running a local deli.

“I’m insanely jealous of people who say, ‘I’ve known her since kindergarten,’” Sofia, 24, said.

Growing up, she and her family moved about every two years. Travels throughout the years include the Philippines, Germany and Korea.

In between, Sofia studied integrated marketing communications at University of Asia and the Pacific in the Philippines. Martina, 22, attended a culinary school at Operation Brotherhood Montessori Colleges there.

Their father, a civilian employee of the Department of Defense, is food, beverage and entertainment director for the U.S. Navy installation in Bahrain. He’s worked for the U.S. government for more than 20 years.

Having traveled to Fort Knox on previous occasions, their father came to love the area. When the opportunity arose for him to buy a local area landmark restaurant, the Old Vault Deli, he took it.

Then he brought his daughters to Kentucky.

“My dad was like, ‘OK, this is your test,’” Sofia said.

Martina said their father didn’t even tell them how to order food supplies.

“He didn’t tell us anything,” Martina said.

With Sofia’s background in marketing and Martina’s culinary training, their dad figured they should be able to run the restaurant.

It was “sink or swim,” Sofia said.

That was in July.

“The first couple of weeks was chaotic,” Sofia said.

On more than one occasion, customers expressed concern the women were working unsupervised, namely because the sisters are mistaken for high school students. Some customers asked what will happen if the deli starts to sell alcohol.

“They do think that we’re underage,” Martina said.

Old Vault Deli continues to offer popular sandwiches, like burgers and BLTs. But the sisters want to become a specialty sandwich shop with items that are “out of the box but within the universe of sandwiches,” Martina said.

They have begun to offer daily specials. Spanish chicken panini, beef tips with mushroom gravy and chicken picatta are some past specials. Lasagna has been a popular special at the deli.

Second Saturday, an event started this year with the intent of promoting downtown businesses, has offered the sisters the opportunity to try out their international cuisine. French food, including mini quiches, was part of November’s Second Saturday during which downtown businesses are encouraged to remain open until 8 p.m.

Russian and Filipino dishes are other examples of food they plan to prepare. They don’t want to compete with area restaurants.

“We’re going to try to figure out what’s here and what’s not here,” Martina said.

Being able to experiment with menu items and the flexibility of being her own boss were two of the more enjoyable aspects of her work, she said.

And then there are the customers.

“I enjoy talking with them about their lives,” Sofia said.

The siblings enjoy being part of a downtown they feel is on the brink of becoming the center of activity once again. And they are excited about making Elizabethtown their home.

Sofia recalled her reaction when she first arrived in town.

“This is a set from a movie,” Sofia said. “I love it.”

Though the sisters face surprises from customers regularly, it is just part of the allure of the area.

“I think it’s the beauty of meeting different people every day,” Sofia said.

Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743.


Place of birth: New York.

Favorite music: All genres.

Favorite TV shows: “The Big Bang Theory,” “Mythbusters.”

Favorite movies: “Casablanca;” psychological thrillers; foreign films.

Hobbies: Video games; electronic gadgets; crocheting. “I really want to learn knife fighting.”



Place of birth: Philippines.

Favorite music: Alternative.

Favorite TV show: “Modern Family.”

Favorite movies: “The Notebook” and other Nicholas Sparks movies.

Hobbies: Cooking; crocheting, watching movies; hiking; biking.