The closure of the venerable Woodside Deli in Silver Spring was so sudden that people showing up for lunch on Oct. 4 were turned away.
The 72-year-old restaurant on Georgia Avenue had been known for its photo-covered walls, its sandwiches with names like the Baby Jane and the Lord Byron, and for its consistency — a neighborhood fixture that was always there and always would be.
But for deli-goers interviewed for this story, the Woodside’s heyday had long past.
“It was nostalgic, kind of like the Washington area version of Katz’s Deli,” says Mike Tabor of Takoma Park. “I always had the burger with slices of onion and tomato, as well as fries and a pickle. This is the memory of my youth.”
The closure even surprised the Woodside’s owners, Shira and Sharon Elzarat. They were unable to reach an agreement with their landlord, Deoudes-Magafan Realty, on their lease, after it expired in July and was extended for three months.
At issue, they say, was that under their lease they were responsible for upkeep of the entire building, rather than the landlord. The couple say they could no longer afford the upkeep.
“We wanted to keep Woodside [open] for the community, but the deal fell apart,” says Sharon (pronounced “sha ROWN”) Elzarat. “We had to shut [the restaurant] down because it was not in our interest to sign the same lease that would have us responsible for the entire building.”
“It hurt,” Shira adds. “It was gut-wrenching.”
Shira began working at Woodside some 30 years ago, when she was 15. Her father, Paul
Zlotnicki, owned the deli with Dubi Kliger.
Zlotniki had bought the Woodside in 1978 from its original owner and made a point of not changing anything.
“If things are not broken, you don’t fix them. That’s the way I felt all those years about this place,” he told WUSA9 in 2016 when the Maryland Comptroller’s office honored Woodside Deli for its longevity.
“He didn’t start it, but for the past 28 years, has tried to keep it the exact same,” the station reported.
Woodside lore includes the “ladies night discount,” that the deli offered. In the 1980s, a male customer sued for discrimination. Zlotnicki changed the policy “so that any person wearing a dress would receive the discount,” according to Bethesda Magazine.
That’s a bit before Aaron Leibel’s time. The Silver Spring resident became a customer some 30 years ago. He and his wife went every Saturday and Leibel, who doesn’t eat non-kosher meat, regularly ordered the vegetarian burger or the vegetarian sub.
He says the deli lost some of its charm over the years. The quirky photos had been replaced with “generic photos of celebrities.” At times, he says, the food also had dipped in quality, but the couple still went back.
It’s a shame that it closed,” he says.
AJ Campbell, of Takoma Park, was a weekly diner for years. That is, until last year, when she and her daughter became vegetarians. “It always felt like home,” she says. Before giving up meat, she says she was a “traditionalist,” ordering eggs for breakfast and corned beef for lunch.
“The Reuben was delish,” she says.
Although Mike Tabor says he hasn’t eaten at Woodside in years — he’s switched to healthier fare — he is sad to see it go as it was a place where Jews could get together.
Woodside has a Rockville location that remains open. Rabbi David Shneyer says he eats there more frequently than he did in Silver Spring. But the Georgia Avenue location is the one that brings back memories.
In the 1970s, when he was part of the Kosher Kitchen Collective, he and his
comrades often went to the deli for breakfast.
“I liked the ambiance and I really liked some of the food,” says Shneyer, who leads Kehila Chadasha. “I have a lot of memories associated with Woodside: the food is one and [then there’s] the people I met over the years.”
Over the years, Shira Elzarat watched her customers grow up. She would cater a brit mila and watch that 8-day-old boy grow up to be a 13-year-old bar mitzvah, and she’d cater that celebration, too. A few years later, she’d see the boy off to college.
“I became friends with a lot of the regulars who came in,” she says. I’ve met so many
amazing people over the years. I was so lucky.”
If not ritually kosher, Woodside was ethnically Jewish, with corned beef, liver and onions, matzah ball soup and latkes on the menu, as well as Israeli fare like falafel, hummus and Israeli salad.
The deli’s appearance changed very little during its seven decades: photos and memorabilia collected by the owners and donated by the customers covered
the walls, and new pictures, including photos of celebrities, local and national, and pictures of old-fashioned pin-up girls, were constantly added.
And the Elzarats kept the names of the literary and historic sandwiches that the original owner had developed. Two of the sandwiches, the Rex Burger and the Baby Jane, were named after long-time employees.
What about the future? Sharon Elzarat says they will begin extending their hours in Rockville in November. They’ve applied for a liquor license and plan on offering a happy hour.
But the Silver Spring location was the original, and the Elzarats say it’s hard to let that part go.
Says Shira, “I always say, it was like a living, breathing thing.” WJW