DELAND – Every Sunday for the past five years, Steve Jones has been coming to Hunter’s Restaurant with his wife for a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon and toast with tomato yeast.
And while the food is good, the people behind the city’s oldest restaurant are the ones who support customers like Jones and countless others who come weekly, sometimes several times a week, for several years or, for some visitors, decades.
“That’s why I decided to do it,” said Jones, 68, picking up his punch card at the restaurant, which he asked Hunter’s crew to sign. “This will be very much lacking in DeLand.”
The Hunter’s Sunday crew will prepare breakfast and lunch for the last time.
A post on the restaurant’s Facebook page shattered the news and subsequently the hearts of countless customers on May 15.
In part, it read: “With a sad heart and mixed emotions, we inform DeLand that we have sold Hunter’s and will close our doors on Sunday, May 29. After 73 years of proud service to DeLand and West Volusia, our owner decided to retire. We would like to thank all our loyal and loyal customers. Without you and the families of several generations who have become part of our family, the last 73 years would not have been possible. “
The post had nearly 200 comments as of Friday.
“You serve DeLand well,” Cathy Grow Collms wrote. “Don’t be sad or heavy. Enjoy the next chapter of your life.”
Owner Mike Marlowe has been retiring from the restaurant business for some time.
“It was time to sell it and get out while the acquisition is good,” Marlowe, 57, said Thursday. “The only thing I’m going to miss is the customers, because we have great customers.”
In its place will take a Vietnamese restaurant.
“I don’t know who will cook me chicken and dumplings now,” one woman said as she left the restaurant in the afternoon.
As they sat next to their brother Kenny Marlowe, 59, in a booth at Hunter’s entrance, the brothers reflected on the history and place of the family restaurant in the community for the past 73 years.
A story of a classic
Since last September, Mike Marlowe has been making classic family recipes, such as chicken and dumplings, meatballs and coconut cream pie, at 111 E. Rich Ave., formerly home to Bellini’s Deli.
But for most of his life, Hunter’s served a favorite breakfast at 202 N. Woodland Blvd., which now houses the Pumpernickel Pops Smoke and Vape Shop.
Paul and Carolyn Hunter entered the restaurant business in the late 1940s when they bought Chat-N-Nibble at 210 N. Woodland Blvd. They sold the restaurant to their son Paul Hunter Jr. the following year.
In 1959, Hunter Jr. moved his business to the southeast corner of North Woodland and East Rich Avenue, now Pioneer Park.
He ruled second for several years in the late 1950s in downtown Daytona Beach. This place was closed in 1961 due to a fire that nearly cost the restaurateur his life.
Twenty years later, Hunter Jr. lost his location in downtown Deland to another fire.
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The popular place for comfortable food has moved to the northwest corner of the crossroads next year.
Mike Marlowe said his uncle reopened the restaurant only at the urging of the community.
In 1983, Hunter Jr. sold his business to a married couple, but returned to the restaurant a decade later when the couple separated.
A few years ago, Marlowe said he tried to sell the business, but his landlord blocked it.
Hunter’s survived the pandemic at 202 Woodland Blvd. location with federal aid for COVID-19, but Marlowe decided to move down the street when rents nearly doubled.
Marlowe said they would miss local customers the most.
Over the years, the restaurant has received visits from its share of notable figures such as Jimmy Carter during his presidential campaign, the late former Attorney General Janet Reno, former Congressman John Mika and Senator Rick Scott.
As children, the Marlowe brothers had breakfast at the restaurant where Nancy Hunter’s mother worked as a server, and then walked to school.
“It was like a playground for us,” Kenny said, adding that at least half of their family members had worked there at one time or another over the years. “One aunt was making pies, another aunt was making cakes.”
Their mother took over the restaurant from her brother in 1999.
She arrived at 4:30 each morning, spending the first hour, her favorite part of her 12-hour workday, doing preparatory work for breakfast and lunch while listening to the radio.
In 2005, Kenny returned to Deland to help his mother with the restaurant.
A carpenter by profession, Kenny said he never planned to be a restaurant owner because he knew how long it took.
“If you’re not doing something here or fixing something here, you go to the store to get something from here,” Kenny said.
Mike returned to DeLand in 2011 to help with the restaurant, mostly in the kitchen.
“He has more finesse in the meringue than I do,” Kenny said.
But in her 70s, Nancy could still cook for her sons.
“It was effortless,” Mike said.
Kenny repeated that feeling.
“What does the work of two men do? A woman,” Kenny said. “And that was our mother, she was a machine.”
The brothers took over nearly a decade ago when Nancy retired.
Kenny retired last year, but still helps his younger brother when needed.
The brothers, both moving to Waynesboro, Tennessee, have agreed that their favorite part of the business is helping them continue their legacy and spending time with their mother, who died in 2017 at the age of 78.
Mike’s fiancée Erica Braddock, a longtime server at Hunter’s, said she had received a number of Facebook friend requests from patrons in the ’70s and’ 80s since the closure was announced.
“I’m getting closer to the customers,” Braddock said. “They know my life.”
Over the past two weeks, we’ve also seen a number of customers ask Mike if they can buy the old sign that survived the fire or other memories from the restaurant.
For more than sentimental reasons, Mike holds them.
“My cousin may one day grow stronger, and Hunter’s may rise from the ashes.