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The Grill Is Gone

After 20 years, Hunter Mill Deli closes its doors.

Although Nathan Radziewicz didn’t work weekends at the Hunter Mill Deli, he came up to Oakton from Burke on Saturday, June 18, to say goodbye. Throughout the day, Radziewicz saw customers come into the deli with cards and gifts, some crying, to say goodbye as well.

The Hunter Mill Deli, which opened in 1985 at 2946-Q Chain Bridge Road, closed for good on June 18. It had changed hands once, and had spawned offshoots in Fairfax, Centreville and Sterling. Travelers could even visit a Hunter Mill Deli in North Carolina. When the Oakton location’s lease ran out, the restaurant left behind the kind of staunchly loyal customers few restaurants can boast about.

"A lot of (the customers) ordered the same thing every time," said Radziewicz. "One guy ordered the special every time he came in, no matter what it was. ... Another guy had been coming in for 18 years, since just after it opened."

Laura Hackerson was one of the deli's loyal customers. Her family moved to Vienna in 1984 and had been going to the deli for years, she said.

"I got the same thing every time: steak and cheese," she said. Hackerson, who teaches at James Madison High School, said she was surprised and upset by Hunter Mill Deli’s closing.

"We went there two weeks ago and said, ‘We’ll see you later,’" and they said ‘No, we won’t see you anymore,’" said Hackerson. "It’s one of those things that is just sad to hear. It’s a huge shock and disappointment."

Chad Jahansouz is the deli’s most recent owner, having bought the restaurant from John Tawheel in 1996. Jahansouz said that the owners of the building from which the deli leased its space, A.J. Dwoskin & Associates, Inc., "refused" to let him sell the deli. "I couldn’t sell it, I couldn’t renew my lease option. I had to leave," he said.

The case went to court, said Jahansouz, but the deli lost, and Jahansouz decided not to appeal.

Jahansouz conjectured that A.J. Dwoskin & Associates evicted Hunter Mill Deli because it was too much competition for a new Jerry’s Subs and Pizza restaurant that opened across from it in December.

"Management was not our friends," he said. "They were more secure with a franchise rather than us."

Greg Marshall, general manager of the Oakton Jerry’s Subs and Pizza, admitted that Jerry’s competed with the Hunter Mill Deli, but said that the Hunter Mill Deli had "little to no effect" on his business.

"They had their customers who liked what they had, and we had our customers who liked what we had," said Marshall. "(Jerry’s and Hunter Mill Deli) had two different products. They were more in the line of an upscale sandwich, we’re more middle-of-the-road. They didn’t bother us."

Reached by telephone, a representative of A.J. Dwoskin & Associates said that the company had no comment on the issue.

At the moment, Jahansouz has no plans to reopen the deli. But Radziewicz, who worked at the Hunter Mill Deli for 10 years, would like reopen the deli. He is looking for space to relocate the restaurant. But it isn’t Jerry’s competition that makes him nervous.

"It’s Santini’s," he said, referring to the soon-to-be opened deli on Chain Bridge Road in Oakton. If he does reopen the deli, said Radziewicz, he will do some things differently. He will advertise the restaurant, deliver at night and send menus to neighborhood homes. He believes the strong name recognition would help.

"I think that if I reopened the Hunter Mill Deli, we could survive," he said.

To Hackerson, the Hunter Mill Deli’s appeal came down to the little things. "It was the friendly staff and the people that worked there that really made the memories," she said. "That’s really the essence of it."