Some days, you just need a good hug. Other days, a bowl of matzah ball soup feels like a hug. In Montgomery County, the go-to for a hot, comforting bowl of love filled with chunks of chicken, cooked carrots, celery, onions and an oversized matzah ball is Parkway Deli & Restaurant.
A mainstay for almost six decades, Parkway has been serving up home-style deli favorites — from tasty Reuben sandwiches, classic corned beef on rye and flaky fish and chips to rich carrot cake and black-and-white cookies — to generations of Washingtonians.
Danny Gurewitz, the third generation of the Gurewitz family to run the carryout and restaurant, oversees nearly 50 employees in the operation tucked into a modest mid-20th-century shopping center on Grubb Road in Silver Spring.
The Washington region has long been called a deli desert, particularly by transplants from New York who opine the lack of good bagels or a decent corned beef sandwich. And many New Yorkers still snub the D.C. deli landscape, but locals have been swearing by Parkway Deli for decades. It may not satisfy the most discerning of corned beef aficionados, but the deli has an avid clientele who swear by a number of favorites. Not to mention, the beloved pickle bar has returned, following its hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 1905, Lou Gurewitz and his parents arrived in New York from Russia on the heels of pogroms. When they resettled in the Maryland suburbs, Lou — Danny’s grandfather — worked at Queenstown Restaurant near Queens Chapel Road, a deli on Flower Avenue and a few other spots before opening Parkway Deli in 1963 with his sister, Rose, and her husband, Mike.
Danny Gurewitz recalled the family lore: “My grandfather, he looked at a couple other places and eventually settled on this one. They were trying to figure out what to call it, and somebody said, ‘Oh, you should call it Parkway, because it’s by the park.’” Rock Creek Park, that is.
Lou’s son Stuart Gurewitz began working at the deli in 1974 and, by the time Danny was 13, he spent his summers busing tables and learning the ropes of the busy family restaurant. But Danny Gurewitz’s plans included engineering school at University of Texas.
He lived with his mom outside of Houston — his parents were divorced — during the school year. But when his mother died, he and his two brothers moved to Montgomery County full time. That’s when Danny began working at the deli with his father.
“My big sales pitch to my dad was that I knew computers and he didn’t. We didn’t have a computer back then,” Danny Gurewitz said. “He was typing up everything, all the menus, handwriting invoices. And we had a Xerox machine. I started to build the business using the computer. I took some accounting classes at Montgomery College, and I started doing the accounting and more office work. Then, in 2005 my dad had a stroke and I had to take over.”
These days, Danny is president of the family business he never expected to run. “I like to be quiet and do my own work and not deal with managing people. That just wasn’t my thing, but over time I’ve learned how.”
Asked what Parkway’s secret is as it nears 60 years in continuous service in the same spot, and Gurewitz attributes the location: close to the District, near Rock Creek Parkway and positioned in an established Silver Spring neighborhood shopping center with enough parking.
“I would say consistent quality food is also a factor,” he added. “It’s not like something top of the line that you paid top dollar for, and it’s served on a little plate. Our food is good quality … and the pricing is pretty low on average, if you compare us to other places.” He added that the portions are ample: “For the amount of food you get, it’s definitely a good value.”
But what keeps folks coming back — some once or twice a day, or even for every meal — is the staff. “Our managers and servers are great and our kitchen staff has been here for so long … That helps a lot, too.”
One of those long-term staff members, Rigoberto Cruz, grew up at the deli. As a kid, he would stop in to buy a soda or a snack after school. One day, Gurewitz said, the kitchen was short a dishwasher, and he convinced Rigo to earn some extra money by helping out.
Cruz stayed so late he missed his 13th birthday dinner at home.Two decades later, he’s general manager.
Asked if Parkway will see a fourth generation of Gurewitzes, and Danny Gurewitz, 52, demurred. The restaurant business, he said, never gets easier and the pandemic only exacerbated some challenges, like keeping wait staff. He was able to build a covered patio out back because, he said, “For a while, nobody was willing to eat inside.” He also added healthier items to the menu, like a meatless sausage and a few other vegetarian dishes like falafel platter and a plant-based meatball sub, sharing that he’s been vegetarian for almost 25 years. “I haven’t had a piece of corned beef since about 1994,” he admitted.
But he won’t begrudge a good eight-ounce meat sandwich to his customers. “I became more spiritual and one day I felt like somebody reached in my head and flipped a switch,” Gurewitz said.
“And I couldn’t eat meat anymore. It was just about my health and ethical for me. Whatever anybody else wants to eat, well, I don’t care. That’s up to them.”
He’ll serve you a hot pastrami on rye sandwich without a blink. Just don’t order it with mayo.
Parkway Deli & Restaurant
8317 Grubb Road, Silver Spring.