For the better part of the last two decades Potomac Oak Deli has served the residents and local workers of North Potomac. The deli changed ownership a month ago, but if all is going according to the new owner’s plans, no on will have noticed.
“I’m still trying to carry on what was going on,” said Lorensu De Silva, the new owner.
De Silva, a native of Sri Lanka, comes to his new venture with a wealth of experience in the fast-food industry, having previously managed Roy Rogers, Hardees, and Popeye’s franchises and having owned a Subway franchise.
“I’ve never done [a deli] before, but I did fast food for 22 years,” De Silva said. The food industry wasn’t always what De Silva envisioned for himself. He graduated from the University of London with a degree in medical science and the intention of becoming an osteopath. When he moved to the Washington, D.C. area the first job he got was managing the sandwich shop Booeymonger in Washington, D.C. One opportunity led to the next and now De Silva once again finds himself in new territory.
De Silva laughed as he marveled at the unexpected turns life can take.
“I like a challenge,” said De Silva.
EDDIE DUCHARM worked at the deli for the previous owners and now is helping De Silva make the transition from fast food to life behind the deli counter. The biggest differences are in the day-to-day operations, so Ducharm is acquainting De Silva with deliverymen, distributors and — most importantly — customers.
“The transition can be a little scary,” Ducharm said. “I think Lorensu’s a great guy, so I’m just trying to help him get his feet on the ground.”
During the day the deli is frequented by contractors and workers on jobs in Potomac, while the evening and weekend hours bring in nearby residents, Ducharm said.
“It’s a really nice area, it really is. There’s a lot to say about the area — its calm and quiet,” Ducharm said of North Potomac. The goal of the deli is to provide a complementary atmostphere. “It’s a homey atmosphere — you’ve got your smooth jazz playing, your TV, and you have good customers, so how bad can life be?”
The deli, located at 12944-E Travilah Road, serves a wide range of hot and cold sandwiches, as well as hot dogs, buffalo wings, soup, French Bread pizzas, and salads. It also offers Boars Head Brand meats and cheeses, a wide selection of beer and wine and convenience items from potato chips to cigarettes.
Ducharm said that the goal of the deli is to work with customers to provide the best customer service possible.
“Our customers like the variety so we try to work with them,” said Ducharm. That includes ordering kegs of beer or getting certain brands delivered specifically for certain customers.
Josiah Cushing lives nearby and has been going to Potomac Oak Deli for two years.
“I stop in on my way home from work,” Cushing said. Cushing said that he comes by once or twice a week and that the store, though it does not have as deep of a stock as larger stores, does have his particular brand of beer — Harpoon.
“Whenever I come in there’s usually two cases — one’s for me and I guess one’s for some other guy,” Cushing said.
ONCE DE SILVA gets the hang of running the deli he does plan one potentially significant addition to the deli’s offerings — a catering service. De Silva envisions specializing in Jewish fare such as corned beef, whitefish salad, smoked salmon and other traditional items that can be ordered for brunches and parties.
“My main mission is to get this catering thing going,” De Silva said. However, that mission will wait until he has mastered the nuances of serving up sandwiches, deli meats and six-packs; it’s just a matter of time.
“Lorensu’s a very business-savvy guy,” Ducharm said. “Like anything it takes hard work and time and patience.”