“I think the big thing, is that the two most recent attempts here have been by people who either weren’t a part of the culture or didn’t understand the Montgomery County culture, the Bethesda culture,” said Heckman, who grew up a block from Whitman High School.
The deli has Heckman’s financial backing, but is really the idea of his son Ronnie, who will run the front of the house, and his friend Marc Rosemond, who will run the kitchen. Both were working at a Jewish style deli for the last five years and looking for a location of their own.
“The experience is there. They have a good feel for the clientele,” Heckman said.
They will try to make deli work in Woodmont Triangle, an area that has brought lots of attention to those who have tried before, but little long-term success.
Many predicted big things for Norfolk Avenue’s Uptown Deli when it opened in November 2010. It closed in August 2012 for renovations, but soon it was revealed a new owner had sold the spot to the former Haandi Indian restaurant, which needed to relocate from Fairmont Avenue.
A former employee said the “New York Jewish” style eatery was losing money. Bubby’s, another Jewish style deli, opened around the corner at 4866 Cordell Ave in February 2011. It was short-lived, closing for good just six months later.
“We’re going to be as fresh as possible,” Heckman said. “It’s not a health issue. It just tastes better. We’re going to make our own french fries, for instance, and french fries aren’t healthy but they’re good. Anything we can possibly prepare ourselves we’re going to do, instead of depending on processed and pre-made stuff.”
The deli will have the basics: corned beef, pastrami, turkey, brisket and bagels, all prepared in-house.
“We’re testing constantly. We’ve got a pretty good network of focus group people that have been eating that kind of food for years,” Heckman said. “Most of them are brutally honest. If they say it’s OK, then it’s like, ‘We’re pretty close.’ If they actually say it’s good, then it’s like, ‘Don’t change it.'”
The Heckmans and Rosemond have quickly done some cosmetic changes to the inside of the space at 4914 Cordell Ave. Maggie’s, a wing-focused sports bar, closed there in February.
Heckman said the quality of the food will make the difference, though he is cognizant that successful deli operations in Montgomery County are in more suburban, strip mall settings.
Heckman’s won’t become a destination akin to Parkway Deli in Silver Spring overnight. It will rely on the quick lunch and carry out business of a Woodmont Triangle full of office buildings and new apartments.
“I lived in the East Village in New York. Cordell, Del Ray, Fairmont and St Elmo have more of that kind of feel and I hope it stays that way,” Heckman said.
Heckman said work on the interior and kitchen will be done in the next week, and the deli will open as soon as the restaurant gets its permits. They will go before the Board of License Commissioners for an alcohol license on May 15, but expect to have the restaurant open well before that.
The Maggie’s tiki bar just outside the building will be gone, but Heckman said there will be seating outside and TVs both inside and outside.
For long time Washingtonians, the Heckman name is likely familiar. Heckman’s great uncle started Heckman’s Pickles, the D.C.-based company that at one time, provided area grocery stores with the majority of their pickle supply. Heckman’s dad helped pay off his law school tuition by selling his uncle’s pickles for $75 a week.
Look for some Heckman’s memorabilia in the deli once it gets going.