Sam's Back

Sam's Back

While Washington has Abe Polin, Michael Jordan and the Washington Wizards, Potomac has Adam Greenberg, Sam Lerner and the Potomac Village Deli.

Lerner, owner of the Potomac Village Deli from May 6, 1978 to June, 3, 1997, is back from "retirement."

"I took a few years at baseball — I ran a sports bar in Rockville — with the same results as Michael Jordan's batting average," said Lerner. "I really missed Potomac and all the relationships I've developed."

Greenberg, the owner of Potomac Pizza and past president of the Potomac Chamber of Commerce, Lerner and B.G. Raymond are the new co-owners of Potomac Village Deli, which has operated in its present location since 1978.

"The goal is to be the No. 1 deli this side of New York," said Greenberg, who bought Potomac Pizza in 1994. "I'm a pizza man, not a deli man. Sam's the best in the city."

While watching Jordan and the Wizards downtown on Tuesday, Jan. 22, Greenberg got a call from the previous owners of the deli, Rick and Dennis Cohen, who told him they wanted to sell the restaurant they bought from Lerner in 1997.

"My mind started to race 100 miles per hour. You'd be amazed at the number of ideas I had," said Greenberg, who called Lerner the next morning. "One hour later he called back. The rest is history."

<mh>Timing Is Everything

<bt>"I was three days away from buying another deli, but that wasn't my first choice," said Lerner. "This is a dream come true."

Since that Tuesday night, Greenberg and Lerner have transitioned to their fast-break attack.

"Things happened so fast, we haven't had time to catch up," said Greenberg, who came to an agreement with the previous owners on Wednesday, Jan. 23. Within eight days later, a new lease was worked, and Greenberg, Lerner and Raymond had officially taken over.

"We are going to keep a low profile for the first few weeks. We still have a long way to go. When people hear that Sam is back, it's going to be huge," said Greenberg. "

"Good news travels fast," said Sonya Taubin, a 28-year resident of Potomac who started eating at the Village Deli when Lerner started his business. "I am so glad, so happy. It wasn't the same without him."

"When my son Gary, who is now 22, and I walked in, Sam would let Gary walk behind the counter and grab his own cookie. He loves kids," said Taubin, who looks forward to the matzoh ball soup and brisket. "He's one fabulous, caring person. When my mother died, and then my father, he had a platter at my house before I knew what happened. He treats you like family."

The Thursday before the Super Bowl — the day Lerner came back — not one platter was sold for Super Bowl night. By Sunday, Greenberg and Lerner did $7,000-8,000 worth of deli catering.

"The Bulls' success was because of Michael Jordan and how hard he was driven. Adam is driven like Michael Jordan," said Lerner. "When he wants to do something, he gets it done. To do settlement on Friday and have new carpets on the floor days after — he wants to do things first class and right."

They plan to completely remodel the restaurant in January, 2003; the project will likely close the store for a month at that time. In addition to adding 30 more seats, they will move the dining room to the back of the business under the skylight; the counter, deli and catering will move to the front of the store.

"The way a deli should be," said Greenberg.

While Lerner is known for his deli spread, it is his commitment to the community that makes him so well known in Potomac. Lerner served as Grand Marshall of the Potomac Day Parade one year and business person of the year another.

"I've never turned down a charity that has asked. Anything non-profit," said Lerner.

Current staff from Potomac Pizza and the deli will work with some former staff members, including Lerner's long-time employee Sam Teichman.

"We've put together a good team," said Greenberg.

Time Line

1975 Lerner started a deli in Olney

May 6, 1978 Lerner opened Potomac Village Deli

February 1992 Greenberg opened his first Cone Zone (an ice-cream store) in Bethesda

March 1994 Greenberg bought Cone Zone in the Village

June 1996 Greenberg sold Cone Zone in Bethesda

July 1997 Greenberg sold Cone Zone in Potomac

June 1, 1995 Greenberg bought Potomac Pizza

June 3, 1997 Lerner sold the Potomac Village Deli

Jan. 22, 2002 Greenberg received a call from owners — Rick and Dennis Cohen — of the deli, saying they want to sell the business

Jan. 23, 2002 Greenberg called Lerner, saying he wouldn't buy the Deli without him ("I was three days away from another deli," said Lerner.)

Feb. 1, 2002 Greenberg and Lerner take over as co-owners of the deli