Spotlight: GW Deli serves public for more than 50 years

Originally Published 12/04/00

GW Delicatessen is a landmark on GW’s campus. A favorite place of many of students, faculty and staff, the deli, located at 2133 G St., has served the GW community since the end of World War II.

Leo Ambrogi first opened the GW Deli in 1945, when there were only a few University buildings on campus. John, Leo’s son who works at the deli, said his father told him many stories about how different the area was when he first opened the deli.

I think that there were stables where the Smith Center is now, Ambrogi said. It was a completely different area than it is now. The area really grew around the deli.

Leo Ambrogi spent his entire life in D.C., and decided the Foggy Bottom area would be the best place to start his business.

I really don’t think there could be a much better place than here, on a college campus, Ambrogi said. The customers are wonderful. They are a very highly educated group of people and I don’t think we could ask for better clientele than what we have now.

Maria Ambrogi, Leo’s wife, said the customers make the job enjoyable.

Our customers are all very nice people, Maria said. I enjoy seeing young people. It really keeps you alive to always be around such an energetic group. When GW is on break, we really miss all the students. The business is sometimes dead when (students) aren’t around.

Maria and John both agree that working in a family-owned business is sometimes more difficult than just working for someone else.

It’s sometimes harder than just being a regular employee, Maria said. We have to make sure things are always running smoothly. It’s not easy for us ever to just take time off. If somebody doesn’t come in we have to make sure that one of us is there, so that the work gets done.

John said he works harder because it’s a family-owned business, but also gets more support from his family than other businesses would offer.

Family gives support like no one else can, so the business is very well supported even if the work is at times more difficult, he said.

Running a business is a difficult task and John admits that he does not always know what to attribute the success of the deli to.

I’m not really sure why people keep coming back, he said. I just know that I’m glad that they do and I hope they will continue to do so.

Maria said she feels the quality of service employees provide has a great deal to do with the deli’s success.

I think if you give good, home-cooked food and have a clean place, people will keep coming in, Maria said. It’s also important to be nice to your customers. If you are nice to customers, they will definitely keep coming back.

John explained that one of the best parts of having the deli is the fact that many of the customers are repeat customers.

We see some people two or three times a day, John said. It’s great to come to work and be able to see familiar faces. When customers come in, we can always have conversations about what’s going on because we know a lot of them. I think that they feel the same way, too.

GW junior Will Stern, a deli customer, said he often visits the campus landmark because it beats University eateries.

(The deli has) absolute better food and service than J-Street and the service is very friendly, Stern said.

Leo said he feels another important part of his job involves serving the public.

My father has always said that serving the public is a privilege and that’s something that is very important for us not to forget, he said.

Last year the deli donated money to GW. Although Maria was unwilling to disclose the amount of money donated, she said the money went to campus beautification efforts.

Joe Audi, one of the famous cashiers at the deli has worked at the GW Deli for 18 years, only missing one day of work during that span. He said about 2,000 customers walk through the deli’s door every day. Audi said he works about 70 hours a week, allowing him to get to know his customers.

Some professors come in four times a day so I get to know a lot of the customers well, Audi said.

Audi has trained many GW students who have worked at the deli. He said at first students are nervous about the store’s unique cashier method – instead of ringing in all orders into a cash register, GW Deli cashiers count totals and add tax in their heads.

Soon you get to know the price of everything in the store, Audi said. It’s not that hard. It just takes a little time.

Audi attributes the store’s success to its quick and friendly service. The deli tries to cater to the customer and is willing to order and try any product a repeat customer recommends, Audi said. He said the store’s large drink selection demonstrates the deli’s commitment to carry products for many different customers.

School Without Walls students make up a large portion of the deli’s clientele. Most students buy food from the deli because the high school has no cafeteria, Audi said.

I’m good to them, he said. If one of them is a little short I help them out. Not many other places give students respect like we do here.

Some famous people that have graced the GW Deli include Fox News reporter Patrick McGraph, John Schwartz, the son of the CEO of Calvin Klein, Director of the IMF James Wolfensohn and Jessie Jackson.

The cash-only deli has no future plans of taking credit cards, checks or GW Debit Dollars because cash is the quickest transaction and quick service is a big part of the business.

With its doors open for the past 55 years, the GW Delicatessen has become the local New York-style deli that carries everything from knishes to pesto pasta salad, and it always has customers coming back for more.

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