Where can a Jew get a good pastrami sandwich around here anymore?
Following a string of Jewish-owned deli closures, Miller’s Delicatessen in the Greenspring Shopping Center in Pikesville will lock its doors March 31 after more than 50 years of serving the community.
Owner Jeff Karlin said that Miller’s is not closing because of any change in culture or mismanagement. He and his partner Mark Neumann had hoped to divide the space and make it smaller, but this was not possible. Instead, the two decided not to renew when their lease with the shopping center, owned by Brooks & Goldman Realty LLP, ends.
“It’s been incredible,” Karlin said. “We have an incredible client base, and the staff and I are completely overwhelmed by the support and well-wishing.” His focus now is to tie up the loose ends of the restaurant, and he is eager to see what the future holds for him.
Miller’s Deli was named by co-founding brothers Harold and Emanuel Miller in the 1960s. In 1989, the deli was purchased by Larry Abel, and it moved to Owings Mills in the mid-90s. Its third and current owner is Karlin, who has been in the role since April 1, 2010.
A Pikesville resident, Karlin grew up ordering lunch from the shop. It was only fitting that, after his restaurant in Woodlawn became too big too sustain, he started working at Miller’s. He was first brought on as a manager, and after three months, he and Neumann decided to buy the restaurant.
Since then, Karlin said he has collected a list of favorite moments at the deli too personal to share. He said closing the store has been emotionally draining.
Karlin has made close friendships with the community, and “maintained a lot of the original staff. Five or six people have been there for, oh, more than two decades.”
During a recent Wednesday lunch rush, Cory Harris, general manager who has been there for 18 years, shared that sentiment of camaraderie with his team. On his first day of work, Harris was asked to clean a fryer.
“Well, I hadn’t done that before, so I put water in it,” he said, smiling. “It ended up causing a big spill.” But instead of yelling at him, everyone laughed it off and helped him clean it up.
Even though he now lives in Pennsylvania, Harris still drives all the way to Miller’s to keep this position because of the people there. “It’s a good place. The people are a joy. The kids grow up, and they remember you.”
Manager Kathy Mullin said she couldn’t ask for a “better, funnier, kinder boss. He’s a family man; we joke and play everyday.”
As she slices some meat, Mullin calls across the kitchen to Karlin, “Every day is an adventure.”
The employees aren’t the only longstanding members of its community. Karlin said Miller’s is seeing customers it hasn’t seen in years. They recognize them, even those they don’t know by name. “We can say, ‘You’ll never guess who came in, cloak and dagger with everything on the side,’ and we all know who it is,” Karlin said.
Customer Craig Johnson of Harford County has been coming to Miller’s for five years.
“Not to get long and dramatic, but as a kid, I was taken to Lombard Street for pastrami and strawberry shortcake,” he said. “But all these delis closed down. I went to Edmart but they closed, and now Miller’s.” He took a bite of his Miller’s combo, what he calls an authentic sandwich with no frills. “[Miller’s] reminds me of my childhood. It breaks my heart.”
Known for the matzah ball soup, corned beef, coddies, chicken salad, and knishes, Miller’s has symbolized diversity and togetherness for Pikesville.
“I hate separation by ethnicity, but diversity is important,” said Johnson. “Nobody wants to eat the same thing. You need that [diversity]. It’s boring to see the same people.” He laughed. “But [cultural diversity] is dwindling down. You see it with soul food. They used to call the area I went Corned Beef Row, but the neighborhood changes.” He said that people have moved away from Baltimore for better employment opportunities.
“What’s changed is some of the customers have died, and the younger generation, they like to eat healthier or they’re moving away,” said Mullin. “It’s been coming. It’s still good but things happen. We knew from hints this was coming.”
Karlin emphasized the business, not customers, changed.
Miller’s closing will mean the loss of an epicenter where people meet.
Two Pikesville residents and co-members of the nonprofit Kappa Guild shared a meal while they reminisced. Babs Galoney, who ordered corned beef, has been eating at Miller’s “for as long as they’ve been open.” Kappa Guild meets at Miller’s with their families for dinners three times a year. Erma Caplan explained that it’s the one time they get to meet members’ families.
Harris said a lot of people come just to get out of the house and socialize. “We have a group of women who play mahjong,” he said.
Nan Rosenthal of Pikesville shared that Sunday mornings are especially great at Miller’s. “People come in not knowing each other, and they end up getting to know each other.” She said she often comes to pick something up but ends up sticking around to socialize.
She found out that day, when she went to get lunch, that Miller’s was closing much sooner than she had imagined.
“It’s the end of another era,” she said.