DELAND — Every Sunday for the past five years, Steve Jones has come to Hunter’s Restaurant with his wife for a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon and sourdough toast with tomatoes.
And while the food is good, it’s the people behind the city’s oldest restaurant who have kept customers like Jones and countless others coming in weekly, sometimes multiple times per week, for several years or, for some patrons, decades.
“That’s the reason I decided to do this,” Jones, 68, said holding up his restaurant punch card that he asked Hunter’s crew members to sign. “It’s going to be sorely missed in DeLand.”
The crew at Hunter’s Sunday will dish up breakfast and lunch one last time.
A post on the restaurant’s Facebook page broke the news and subsequently the hearts of countless customers on May 15.
It read, in part: “It is with a sad heart and mixed emotions to inform DeLand that we have sold Hunter’s and will be closing our doors on Sunday, May 29th. After 73 years proudly serving DeLand and West Volusia, our owner has decided to retire. We would like to thank all of our loyal and devoted customers. Without you and the multi-generational families that 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 have served DeLand well,” Kathy Grow Collums wrote. “Do not be sad or heavy hearted. Enjoy the next chapter of your lives.”
Owner Mike Marlow said retiring from the restaurant business has been in the works for a while.
“It was time to sell it and get out while the getting’s good,” Marlow, 57, said Thursday. “The only thing I’m going to miss is the customers because we’ve got some great customers.”
A Vietnamese restaurant is set to take its place.
“I don’t know who’s going to cook me chicken and dumplings now,” one woman said as she exited the restaurant after lunch.
While sitting next to his brother Kenny Marlow, 59, in a booth by the entrance of Hunter’s, the brothers reflected on the family restaurant’s history and place in the community over the past 73 years.
History of a classic
Since last September, Mike Marlow has been cooking up classic family recipes, such as chicken and dumplings, meatloaf and coconut crème pie, at 111 E. Rich Ave., previously home to Bellini’s Deli.
But for most of its life, Hunter’s served up breakfast favorites out of 202 N. Woodland Blvd., which now houses Pumpernickel Pops Smoke and Vape Shop.
Paul and Carolene Hunter entered the restaurant business in the late 1940s when they bought the Chat-N-Nibble at 210 N. Woodland Blvd. They sold the establishment to their son Paul Hunter Jr. the following year.
In 1959, Hunter Jr. moved his business to the southeast corner of North Woodland Boulevard and East Rich Avenue, currently Pioneer Park.
He ran a second location for several years in the late 1950s in downtown Daytona Beach. That location closed in 1961 due to a fire that nearly cost the restaurateur his life.
Twenty years later, Hunter Jr. lost his downtown DeLand location to, again, a fire.
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The popular comfort food spot moved to the intersection’s northwest corner the following year.
Mike Marlow said his uncle only reopened the restaurant at the community’s insistence.
In 1983, Hunter Jr. sold his business to a married couple, but got the restaurant back a decade later when the couple split up.
A few years ago, Marlow said he tried to sell the business, but his landlord blocked it.
Hunter’s survived the pandemic in the 202 N. Woodland Blvd. location with help from federal COVID-19 relief, but Marlow decided to move down the street when the rent nearly doubled.
Marlow said it’s their local customers they’ll miss the most.
Over the years, the restaurant 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 Mica and Sen. Rick Scott.
As children, the Marlow brothers ate breakfast at the restaurant, where mother Nancy Hunter 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 worked there at one time or another over the years. “One aunt made pies, another aunt made cakes.”
Their mother took the restaurant over from her brother in 1999.
She arrived at 4:30 every morning, spending the first hour, her favorite part of her 12-hour workday, doing the prep work for breakfast and lunch while listening to the radio.
In 2005 Kenny moved back to DeLand to help his mother with the eatery.
A carpenter by trade, Kenny said he never planned on getting into the restaurant business because he knew how time-consuming it was.
“If you ain’t doing something here or fixing something here, you’re going to the store to get something for here,” Kenny said.
Mike moved back to DeLand in 2011 to help with the restaurant, mostly in the kitchen.
“He’s got more finesse on the meringue than I do,” Kenny said.
But in her 70s, Nancy could still outcook her sons.
“It was just effortless,” Mike said.
Kenny echoed that sentiment.
“What does the work of two men? One woman,” Kenny said. “And that was our mom, she was a machine.”
The brothers took over nearly a decade ago when Nancy retired.
Kenny retired last year but has still helped out his younger brother when needed.
The brothers, both of whom are moving to Waynesboro, Tennessee, agreed their favorite part of working in the business was helping carry on a legacy and spending time with their mother, who died in 2017 at 78 years old.
Mike’s fiancée Erica Braddock, a longtime server at Hunter’s, said she’s received a number of friend requests on Facebook from patrons in their 70s and 80s since they announced the closure.
“I get close to the customers,” Braddock said. “They know my life.”
The past two weeks also saw a number of customers asking Mike if they could buy the old sign that survived the fire or other mementos from the restaurant.
For more than sentimental reasons, Mike is holding onto them.
“My cousin may one day step up, and Hunter’s may rise out of the ashes.”
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Hunter’s Restaurant in DeLand closing after owner sells business