Julie and Will Thompson have a special connection with EYA—two special connections, in fact! Not only are they homeowners at EYA's Townhomes at Cabin John Village, they are also the owners of Celebrity Delly located adjacent to EYA's Graham Park community.
Celebrity Delly was started by Julie's dad almost 50 years ago and features a variety of delicious deli menu items in a fun, family-like atmosphere. We sat down with Julie and Will to learn more about the history of Celebrity Delly, what they are excited about as new Graham Park homeowners begin to move into the neighborhood, why they chose their home at Cabin John Village and more.
Celebrity Delly has been in business for almost 50 years! That is so impressive. Tell us a bit about the history and what has changed over the years.
Julie: On May 1st, it will be 48 years! When my parents opened the restaurant, there were not many restaurants in this area. My father was a traveling furniture salesman. But one night, he had a dream that he owned a restaurant called Celebrity Delly and instantly knew that is what he wanted to do. So he borrowed money from his parents to start the restaurant. The first location was in Rockville and then four years later, the owner of this shopping center at Graham Park asked him to open another location here. And this one has been in business ever since. At that time, the restaurant basically just ran itself because there was no competition in this area. And there was a line of customers at the door, almost constantly. My dad loved food, and knew food, and everybody loved the food and the atmosphere. This was the place to be.
From the atmosphere at the restaurant to your website and social media, there is a very fun, playful element to what you do. Was that a legacy from your dad or is that your own spin on the brand?
Will: Julie's dad was like the original jokester, and always found a way to make any situation funny. He had a fun, prankster humor and we also found that we had that similar type of humor as well in our relationship, so we have continued that in our own way.
Julie: Times were different back then. He would go sit at everybody's tables, sit at the counter, and everybody would come in and he'd talk with them. He'd write out different specials for the day and make things such as chicken a la king, spaghetti and meatballs, steak and baked potatoes every Friday night. Back then, you would just create something that you thought was delicious and amazing, and you would sell it. It was a very fun atmosphere growing up, hanging out at the restaurant.
Moving ahead almost 50 years, the shopping center has been revitalized and EYA's Townhomes at Graham Park has just started welcoming new homeowners. What do you anticipate changing over the coming years and what are you most excited about?
Will: We are really excited about the residents moving in and see this as a huge opportunity for the restaurant to help build a community environment and be a welcoming place for the neighbors to get together and host events. We actually are EYA homeowners ourselves at Cabin John, which also is a new home community connected to a retail shopping center. And we have been able to see firsthand that kind of experience and the possibility of how a restaurant could be a wonderful gathering space for neighbors. And that's what I think Celebrity Delly can be for this new community.
I'm currently working on the website to include an online platform for neighbors where they could have a Q&A section, a suggestion area for things they'd like to see on the menu, ask about hosting events, etc. For example, if someone wanted to have a big Halloween party, we could host it for them. We also do lots of events and offer full service catering. We'd love to see Celebrity Delly become an unofficial community center for the neighborhood. I think that would be a wonderful thing. A place everyone can come to relax, grab some coffee, meet their neighbors. Most people want to get to know their neighbors and we would love to be a place where people could get together.
For anyone who's not familiar with Celebrity Delly, what are some of your most popular items and what are you most known for?
Will: So the restaurant is basically a New York-style deli. But that also can mean that we are a lot of different things. Right now, our biggest items are Reubens. Our sandwiches and subs and our burgers are probably some of the best in the area. And I'm not saying that, I truly believe it.
Julie: And I will say this one thing, which many restaurants don't do, we make all of our meats and salads and we bake all the breads here. And our chefs make all the sauces, everything. And as a small business, we're open to doing a lot of different things. We try to think of fun ideas for different types of parties we cater. We're very creative and we always like to try new things.
Will: And currently, we're launching a bunch of new menu items over the course of 52 weeks. I thought it'd be interesting to expand the menu and reutilize our current menu items in different, unusual ways that people haven't seen. And introduce them over the course of an entire year so one new menu item launches every week. And then by the time we get to the end of the year, we look at items, we reassess and see what worked, what was popular and what to start again. That way it keeps the menu new and fresh, and we can constantly rebuild. We are in week nine as we speak.
What has been the big hit so far of the new items?
Will: Our bacon cheddar croquettes. They are delicious!
You recently had a very exciting experience that Celebrity Delly was featured on the TV show, Kitchen Commando. Tell us about that experience.
Will: We were approached by producers in California that just happened to find our website. They were looking for a business that had longevity with the community, struggled through Covid, survived Covid but yet things are still different now. Basically, a restaurant looking for a bit of a revamp and some new ideas.
Julie: After we did the Zoom meeting, the executive producer called me in the morning and said, "Hi, I just want you to know that we picked you." And I was so surprised that we were chosen out of around 500 people! I didn't ask any questions and I'm glad because otherwise I probably wouldn't have done it. So everything was a very big surprise for us. It was a real whirlwind.
Will: Filming took place over four days while we were closed. The first day they came in and we were sitting here waiting for the meeting, thinking it would be maybe two people or a few more of the production staff. It was more like 40 people, the entire protection staff, lighting, cameramen, and of course, Chef Andre Rush.
I will say it's really fascinating to see how these shows are produced and created, because they film tons of content, capturing different angles if it ends up being an inspiring story or a sad story, and then they pull it all together. The editing process was really, really interesting to see how it all turned out, because it could have gone a lot of different directions. And the way it was turned out to be such a positive light for us. I think it was the most heartfelt show of all the episodes. Even the producer said it was an excellent show.
Julie: They made me cry, a lot! They kept bringing up my dad and it was very emotional. But they really had a lot of good to say about our restaurant, how clean the kitchen is, etc. After the renovations and advice on the menu, they had us host a red carpet event to relaunch the restaurant. We'd love to do that again and include the neighbors. It was basically deli fine dining. Reusing our ingredients to create a fine dining menu. Our food, but elevated.
You can watch the episode on tubi, it's episode four of Kitchen Commando. Click here to watch.
As you mentioned, you are EYA homeowners at Cabin John Village. And it's interesting that Graham Park is similar to Cabin John Village in the sense that it is a new home community adjacent to a shopping center. Why did you decide to purchase a home at Cabin John Village?
Julie: I love our home! I grew up in Potomac and I also lived in Bethesda. So we would always drive to Cabin John from Bethesda. Coincidentally, we also owned a Celebrity Delly in the Cabin John shopping center at that time. And I would often go out back to what was the parking lot. And that's where our new home is now! My parents sold that deli because they wanted to retire and I kept this one at Graham Park. But it's just really funny because that's where our restaurant was, and we bought a home right there. And I love our home. It's so beautiful. I love the white brick. It's like Georgetown. I just fell in love with it.
William: The quality of the homes is really what stood out for us. We'd been looking for a home and we didn't want to buy an older home. We already have this restaurant, which has been here for 40+ years, and we kept saying, "We want new." We don't want to have to deal with the headaches of an older home. So we looked around and we saw the quality of builders, and EYA just took it to a completely different level.
The rooftop is my favorite part of our home. And it's great because we're constantly working and don't have time to maintain a home. I think that is similar to what a lot of business people are doing today. They don't have time to maintain a home. And so having that kind of outdoor space without the inconvenience of lawn maintenance, it's just wonderful.
Julie: And we love all the people at EYA. We actually brought food to every one of the construction workers working on our home. We put our lot number on the food so they would know which one was our home. And I will tell you, our home is built very well. Ha! We're joking, we know it would have been anyways. But we really did enjoy all the workers.
And I really would like to say, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, I love EYA. I love everything about it. I feel like everyone really cares. Just the nicest people. You can feel it in the product, and you can see it in the customer service. The warranty folks are wonderful.
Will: As owners of an EYA home, I can tell you the whole process was so smooth. I mean, even during a pandemic, everyone was so great. The construction foreman, he is one of the most amazing, kind people.
Julie: This is a funny story. He came over to our home to say goodbye as he was leaving to work at a different EYA community. He said, "Hey guys, I just wanted you to know I'm finished here and I'm not going to see you again. It was so great working with you." Will asked where he was going and he said "I'm going to this plaza in Virginia, called Graham Park." So now he is here working on this project where our deli is! It's all been just an incredible experience.
Thank you Julie and Will! We are so happy to have you as part of our EYA family, both as homeowners at Cabin John Village and as Celebrity Delly neighbors at Graham Park.