The Middleburg Deli is celebrating a milestone anniversary, having served up lunch to hunt country residents and visitors from the tiny storefront along North Liberty Street since 1994.
Originally opened by Glory Days Grill co-founder Richard Danker as Dank’s Deli, the lunchtime hotspot has been operated by Pedro and Maria Fuentes since about 1997. The couple operated the deli seven days a week for the next seven years and, in 2012, renamed their quick-service restaurant to Middleburg Deli. Since then, they’ve been adding more food items to the menu, which includes the popular Reuben sandwich, various vegetarian options and a jumbo cheeseburger.
In the late 1980s, the Fuentes immigrated to the U.S. from El Salvador with their young son. At that point, they worked at Danker’s Washington, DC restaurant, Pedro as a cook and Maria as a salad maker. When Danker closed that restaurant and opened Dank’s Deli in Middleburg, Pedro kept his second job at the Grand Hyatt Washington until Danker called him up and gave him the chance to buy the deli. After a bit of hesitation, Pedro and Maria made the purchase and began working nonstop. “It was very scary in the first years,” Maria said.
At that time in the late ’90s, Maria said the deli was “very slow” and that she and Pedro were working nine to 14 hours every day of the week to keep the business moving. The couple kept the menu the same as Danker had it, too, and only added items rather than replace them. The couple kept up their fast-paced schedule for seven years, until they decided to take Sundays off to spend more time with their son and daughter, who both helped at the deli during high school but have since joined the U.S. Navy and gone off to college, respectively.
Now, they employ two full-time and two part-time employees and are still busy nearly every day of the week making hundreds of sandwiches for new and decades-old customers. According to Pedro, they see upwards of 250 customers on busy days, with many packing into the small ordering and eating area between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., often extending the ordering line out the door to Liberty Street.
The Fuentes couple have made more than 1 million sandwiches since they took over. Of those orders, the most popular sandwiches are the deli’s Philly cheesesteak, its Cajun chicken, its Reuben, its Double Play, which features hot corned beef and pastrami, and its California Cruiser, a vegetarian option that features pesto mayo, swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, avocados, sprouts and sweet peppers. Their jumbo cheeseburger is also one of the more heavily sought-after menu items. “It’s a lot of sandwiches,” Maria said.
The deli’s tasty food doesn’t just bring together the area’s blue- and white-collar workers for some lunchtime gratification, it also attracts big names, like Academy Award winner Robert Duvall. The couple said that Duvall has been a regular at the deli for years and that he even helped them boost their business in the late ‘90s.
Maria said at that time—around the same time Duvall was busy starring in “Deep Impact” and “A Civil Action” and hosting “Saturday Night Live”—he appeared on a daytime television show in New York City and mentioned the deli’s name on air. She said the name drop had the show’s stars and producers asking the Fuentes couple to send sandwiches—something Maria said they were unable to do.
But, she said, Duvall’s mention of the deli did resulted in the best week of business they’ve ever seen, with hundreds of customers from all across the region traveling to Middleburg for lunch in the following days.
As for their involvement in the community, Pedro and Maria said they often cater events with meat and cheese trays and pre-made sandwiches and, more frequently, provide The Hill School and Middleburg Community Charter School with lunches once a week.
For all of the sandwiches the deli’s served up in the past 25 years, the Middleburg Town Council on July 11 passed a resolution praising the deli for exemplifying “the charm and friendliness associated with our historic village” through its “long history of providing delicious subs, soups and sandwiches.”
Moving into the deli’s third decade of operation, the Fuentes couple said the only plans they have at the moment are to continue feeding residents their favorite lunches.
“We are trying to stay here—we love it here, we love the people, the whole community,” Maria said. “We have very good customers and we’re very pleased with that.”