You could call Miller’s Deli, nestled comfortably in the western corner of the Greenspring Shopping Center, Pikesville’s version of “Cheers,” a place where (almost) everybody knows your name. Noshing and schmoozing are longtime pastimes at the neighborhood-friendly, cafeteria-style eatery.
But last weekend, the ownership of Miller’s announced that after more than five decades in business, the delicatessen — known for its corned beef sandwiches, coddies, breakfast specials and matzoh ball soup, as well as array of community characters — will close it doors Mar. 31.
“Please stop by and say goodbye,” reads a sign on the deli’s window. “Thank you for your many years of patronage!”
Miller’s demise comes on the heels of the closings in recent years of such local Jewish community culinary staples as Suburban House, Gourmet Again and Edmart Deli.
“I’ve always felt a sense of community there,” said Jmore contributor Michael Olesker, who wrote about Miller’s fondly and frequently in his columns over the years for The Sun. “The staff was friendly, the [framed] newspaper front pages on the walls were all about Baltimore, and the food was great. For a lot of years, there were some great Bawlamer characters who hung out there. And on the High Holidays, that’s where my family always got our platters.
“I consider this a sad day for all of Northwest Baltimore. “
Pikesville resident Beth Flaks Fisher, a longtime Miller’s patron and co-founder of Keep Punching, a local nonprofit that raises funds to fight brain cancer, agreed. She praised the deli’s ownership for its sense of altruism and commitment to the community, as demonstrated by the charity fundraisers frequently hosted at Miller’s.
“I will be forever grateful for the compassion, generosity and support that [Miller’s co-owner] Jeff [Karlin] and the staff at Miller’s Deli have shown me and my foundation Keep Punching over the years,” Fisher said.
Karlin, who bought Miller’s with attorney and local Jewish community leader Mark D. Neumann in April of 2010, attributed the closing to the end of the deli’s lease with the shopping center, which is owned by Brooks & Goldman Realty LLP, as well as the rising operating costs in the food service industry.
“Increases in the minimum wage and other operating expenses makes business harder and harder as the years go by,” he said. “So with our lease term ending anyway, I decided it is time for me to move on and explore the next chapter in my life.”
Miller’s Deli was founded in the mid-1960s by brothers Harold “Hassie” Miller and Emanuel Miller and was originally located in the Brookhill Shopping Center at Reisterstown Road and Clarks Lane, across from the Reisterstown Road Plaza. In the late 1970s, Emanuel Miller opened Manny’s Place in the Greenspring Shopping Center, and Miller’s Deli took over that space in the mid-1990s.
“We all worked there at Miller’s as kids, working in the back, cutting up onions and stuff,” recalled Ken Blue, grandson of Emanuel Miller. “It was a real family feeling working together, all of us cousins. It was fun. Then, we split up [to start Manny’s Place], for more of a restaurant kind of place.”
Blue, who now works as a chef at the nonprofit Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach, Fla., said he felt “mixed emotions” when hearing about Miller’s impending closing. “I loved it, working [at Manny’s Place] in the summers and after college. I was the manager there,” he said. “My grandfather didn’t want me to get into the food business.”
Miller’s was purchased in 1989 by Larry Abel, who worked at the deli earlier in his career, and the business expanded to other sites that are now defunct, including in Owings Mills and the San Francisco area.
Abel, who owned Miller’s for 21 years, is now retired and lives in Scottsdale, Ariz. “Quite sad to see the demise of Millers,” he wrote in an email. “Keep your eyes and ears open, Miller’s Deli may arise from the deli graveyard again.”
In September of 2008, Baltimore magazine wrote of Miller’s, “The deli seems like it belongs in a bigger city … and an earlier time. The inside walls are decorated with posters that hark back to a glitzy age of technicolor Hollywood. There’s also a great selection of food — from pancakes to pastrami — but we were after the beef brisket sandwich ($6.29) with its great mound of tender meat and beefy gravy and a hefty portion of thick-cut fries to complement the brisket. We like that the service is quick and the management is friendly. The only thing you need to bring is an appetite.”
Jill Blum said she felt pangs of nostalgia and a profound sense of loss when learning that Miller’s is going out of business. A former Pikesville resident, Blum said her first job was working as a waitress at Miller’s.
“I was 16 and I got so much out of working there,” she said. “It was a really interesting time in my life, to be in the workforce and to learn how to deal with different kinds of bosses and people. It was a real local deli, and I used to watch all of these wonderful older couples come in and talk to each other and eat together. There was so much love there. I remember thinking, ‘That’s what I want to have at that age.’
“A friend of mine asked me, ‘Where are all the old guys going to go, now that Miller’s is closing?'” Blum said. “That’s a good question. … My grandmother and her brother, Milton, used to go there every Friday night when it was Manny’s. And I recently took my son there for the very first time. So many memories there. It’s a real staple.”