From left: Jose Carrera, Mark Duff, Horacio Carrera, Jeff Johnson, and Jackie Johnson man the counter at JJ Deli in Herndon, ready to serve up their award-winning BBQ and famous soups one last time before closing the doors on the establishment Dec. 31, 2017.
Photo by Mercia Hobson.
Herndon After proudly serving Northern Virginia for 20 years, Jeff and Jackie Johnson turned off the lights and closed the doors at JJ Deli for the last time on Dec. 31, 2017. Sometimes referred to as the hidden gem of Herndon, JJ Deli was housed within one of Northern Virginia’s premier public golf courses, Herndon Centennial Golf Course at 909 Ferndale Avenue. Hidden gem it was, and word got around not just to golfers but the public too.
JJ Deli established a die-hard following for its smoked BBQ, voted the best in DC by viewers of WUSA Channel 9 and later, its Soups for the Soul. The deli also served breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the spacious dining room, and weather permitting, out on the JJ deck overlooking the golf course. Individualized catering, something to fit everyone's budget and needs, was the deli’s third specialty.
The food was not the only thing that set JJ Deli apart from other delis. While the Johnsons were committed to producing great products, they also created an environment where “Everyday was
Saturday,” at JJ Deli. It was the Johnsons, the chatty, friendly hosts who took on all tasks, from chief cooks and bottle washers to event planners. You name it; they did it and did it well, both inside the deli and in the community.
ONE WEEK BEFORE CLOSING, the Johnsons looked back on how JJ Deli came about, their original business model and its guiding principles, and what is on the horizon.
According to Jackie Johnson, JJ Deli came to life in 1997 fueled by her and Jeff's mutual passion for food and entertaining. Knowing Jeff was imminently due to retire from his 20-year military service career, thoughtful consideration went into what the business' guiding principles would be.
The same words, carefully chosen in 1997 remain and are printed proudly on the company’s website: Accountability, Customer Oriented, Quality, Organization, Communications, and Community Involvement. These words created the operating culture and guided the company throughout its life up to closing day, irrespective of events and happenings.
"Community involvement was key,” Jackie Johnson said. Asked to describe a specific event, its challenges and actions taken, and the results of their efforts, she did not hesitate. "September 11, 2001... I came straight from school to the deli and caught up with Jeff. I said we need to help. I picked up the phone and called the Red Cross... When they called back, they asked what could you do. We can bring box lunches I said. Can you do 100, they asked. Yes, I said. Between Jeff, brothers, my cousins, and myself we recruited everybody. We made a production line. I was to be at Arlington by 4 p.m. It was the most satisfying feeling that we were there to help. No hesitation."
In his Closing Letter to the community on the JJ Deli website, Jeff Johnson wrote: "For the past 20 years we have been blessed! We have met some great people and have made some lifetime friends. We were able to use JJ Deli as a launching pad to support some incredible organizations: Fisher House, Walter Reed Army Hospital, Wounded Warriors, Red Cross, Cornerstone (formerly Reston Interfaith), Herndon Police, Fairfax County Schools, U.S. Winter Olympics, Best Buddies, Herndon Council for the Arts, (and) ArtSpace.”
Jeff Johnson sighed and looked around the room. Asked what they were going to do next, he answered, "When we close on the 31st, I look forward to my new career as a bus driver for Fairfax County Public Schools. I've been pleased to be assigned special needs children throughout the county." Jackie Johnson had a quick response. "I will expand my organizing business for helping people with events, downsizing, and making that happen."
Like a person, when a business meets its end, success cannot be measured solely in financial performance and awards. Other metrics come into play such as lasting impact and vision fulfilled.
THE FINAL PARAGRAPH of Jeff Johnson’s Closing Letter to the community, reads: "Jackie and Horacio were at the Pentagon on 9/11 passing out meals for the first responders. We delivered a van full of goods to the flood victims in North Carolina and helped fill a truck for the folks in Houston. We have helped feed and cloth(e) those in need, provided Christmas gifts for those that had none and prayed when we had nothing left to give. When we first started JJ Deli, Jackie told me, ‘We must give first... to receive. She was so right!!!"
"These will be my lasting memories of JJ Deli, giving back to our community."