A teenager walked into the bar area of The Hunter’s Inn one afternoon last week and looked around the room, uncertain of his surroundings.
“He’s looking for the rabbi,” Fred Berman said. Berman got up and guided the boy to a booth in the back of the room where the man he was looking for sat.
Berman, who owns The Hunter’s Inn with his brother Murray Berman, had never seen or met the boy before.
“That’s called hospitality,” said Murray Berman. “We have people walk in and you know that they belong to this person or that person. When you’ve been around [the business] long enough you just get a sense of that.”
Hospitality is the name of the game at The Hunter’s Inn. Fred Berman said that creating a comfortable, welcoming environment for customers in their restaurant was the main goal and the biggest change that the Bermans made when they took over The Hunter’s Inn in 2002. At least one of them is there for every lunch and dinner shift of every day, and they make the rounds past the plush booths and dark wood tables of their restaurant, greeting their steady customers and new customers alike.
“We make everybody feel at home, we talk to everybody,” said Fred Berman. Both say that it has paid off. Many of their customers are regulars who come in three or four times a week, said Murray Berman, and many come to see people that they know.
“We call ourselves the ‘Cheers’ of Potomac, because everybody knows everybody and they certainly know their business,” said Fred Berman. “Their kids went to school together or they went to school together, so on and so forth, or they’re neighbors.”
“Potomac is a place where people like to eat out,” said Murray Berman. “This is a neighborhood where almost everybody knows somebody else … and they come in here and they go from table to table to table on their way in or their way out.”
State Delegate Brian Feldman (D-15) said that he eats at Hunter's 3 or 4 times a week and often meets people there to discuss work matters.
Allan Cohen, a Potomac resident, said that he and his wife eat there once a month.
"I just like it because the food is good and the atmosphere is very nice," said Cohen.
Feldman said the Bermans hold game-day brunches on Sunday mornings during football season for Redskin fans, who then board a luxury bus to FedEx Field.
"It's that type of place," said Feldman. "It's just a great place to eat and spend time."
Other notable regulars include former astronaut John Glenn and Robert Sargent Shriver, among others, said Fred Berman. The PGA tournaments held at Congressional and Avenel in the past have brought the likes of Arnold Palmer and other professional golfers, said Berman.
THE BERMANS have owned the restaurant for a little less than five years, but it dates back to 1978 when it was opened by Naval Mehra in Potomac Promenade. The restaurant closed down between 1985 and 1992, said Murray Berman, before Mehra reopened it in its current location next to Mitch & Bill’s Exxon.
The Bermans bought the restaurant from Mehra in 2002. In addition to creating a comfortable atmosphere, the Bermans hired a new head chef and adjusted the menu, though it may be the drink menu that gets the most attention.
“We’ve got the best martini in Montgomery County and possibly the biggest,” said Fred Berman. Murray Berman said that local news personality Mike Buchanan recently joked on a radio show that The Hunter’s Inn martini was large enough to baptize a child. The restaurant’s wine list has also swelled to nearly upwards of 200 selections.
The menu is prepared by head chef John Sarg, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, said Fred Berman, and offers a wide range of American fare from steak to seafood and includes Friday night Shabbat dinner specials.
Kathy Cate is the manager of The Hunter’s Inn and began working at the restaurant when it opened in 1978. She said that the changes to the menu and wine list were important, but the biggest and most important change has been the vigilance of the Fred and Murray Berman.
“Their presence, day and night, has made the biggest difference,” said Cate. She said that their presence is encouraging to the restaurant’s staff and welcoming to the customers.
"Fred and Murray really make it a place you want to go," said Feldman, who lives around the corner from Murray Berman.
The Bermans were born and raised in Northwest Washington, D.C., they said. Fred Berman lives in Northern Virginia, but lived in Potomac for many years and all three of his children graduated from Winston Churchill High School. Murray Berman lives in Potomac and all four of his children graduated from Churchill.
“We’re local people,” said Murray Berman.
Fred Berman, 74, said that he has been in the restaurant industry nearly all of his adult life and opened That’s Amore in the early 1990s. Murray Berman, 65, worked in the record industry for 25 years before purchasing The Hunter’s Inn with his brother.
Both brothers love their jobs, they said, because of the contact with their customers.
“You go to work… and [see] a hundred people and see some of them three, four times a week,” said Murray Berman.
The human interaction is great, said Fred Berman, but there are other fringe benefits as well.
“Can you go to work and have a martini?” asked Fred Berman. “I can.”