DELAND. Every Sunday for the past five years, Steve Jones has come to Hunter’s with his wife for a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and tomato sourdough toast.
And while the food is good, it’s the people behind the city’s oldest restaurant that keep customers like Jones and countless others coming weekly, sometimes multiple times a week, for years or, for some patrons, decades.
“That’s why I decided to do this,” said Jones, 68, holding up his restaurant’s punch card, which he asked Hunter’s crew members to sign. “It will be sorely missed in DeLand.”
The Hunting Sunday team will prepare breakfast and lunch for the last time.
A post on the restaurant’s Facebook page on May 15 broke the news, and subsequently the hearts of countless customers.
It read, in part: “It is with sadness and mixed emotions that we inform DeLand that we have sold Hunter’s and will be closing our doors on Sunday, May 29th. After 73 years of proud service to DeLand and West Volusia, our owner has decided to retire. We would like to thank all of our loyal and dedicated customers. Without you and the multi-generational families that have become part of our family, the past 73 years would not have been possible.”
As of Friday, the post had nearly 200 comments.
“You have served DeLand well,” wrote Kathy Grow Collums. “Don’t be sad and don’t be sad. Enjoy the next chapter of your life.”
Owner Mike Marlow said the decision to leave the restaurant business has been in the works for some time.
“It’s time to sell it and get out while things are going well,” Marlowe, 57, said Thursday. “The only thing I’m going to miss is the clients because we have great clients.”
A Vietnamese restaurant will take its place.
“I don’t know who’s going to cook chicken and dumplings for me now,” said one woman as she left the restaurant after dinner.
Sitting next to their 59-year-old brother Kenny Marlow in a booth outside Hunter’s, the brothers reflected on the family restaurant’s history and place in society over the past 73 years.
History of the classics
Since last September, Mike Marlowe has been cooking classic family recipes like chicken and dumplings, meatloaf and coconut cream pie at 111 E. Rich Ave., formerly Bellini’s Deli.
But for most of its life, Hunter’s served breakfast favorites at 202 N. Woodland Boulevard, where the Pumpernickel Pops Smoke and Vape Shop is now located.
Paul and Caroline Hunter entered the restaurant business in the late 1940s when they purchased Chat-N-Nibble at 210 N. Woodland Blvd. The following year they sold the establishment to their son Paul Hunter Jr.
In 1959, Hunter Jr. moved his business to the southeast corner of North Woodland Boulevard and East Rich Avenue, now Pioneer Park.
In the late 1950s, he ran a second store in downtown Daytona Beach for several years. This establishment closed in 1961 due to a fire that almost cost the restaurateur his life.
Twenty years later, Hunter Jr. again lost his seat in downtown DeLand due to a fire.
A PHOTO:Murals in downtown DeLand
The following year, the popular convenience food establishment moved to the northwest corner of the intersection.
Mike Marlow said his uncle only reopened the restaurant at the urging of the residents.
In 1983, Hunter Jr. sold his business to a married couple, but took the restaurant back ten years later when the couple separated.
A few years ago, Marlowe said he tried to sell the business, but the landlord blocked it.
Hunter survived the pandemic at 202 N. Woodland Boulevard with the help of federal COVID-19 assistance, but Marlow decided to move down the street when rent nearly doubled.
Marlowe said that what they will miss the most is their local customers.
Over the years, the restaurant has been visited by notables such as Jimmy Carter during his presidential campaign, the late former Attorney General Janet Reno, former Congressman John Mica and Senator Rick Scott.
As children, the Marlowe brothers ate breakfast at a restaurant where mother Nancy Hunter worked as a waitress, and then walked to school.
“It was like a playground for us,” Kenny said, adding that at least half of their family members have worked there at one time or another over the years. “One aunt baked pies, another aunt baked pies.”
Their mother inherited the restaurant from her brother in 1999.
She came in at 4:30 every morning, spending the first hour, her favorite part of her 12-hour workday, preparing breakfast and lunch, listening to the radio.
In 2005, Kenny returned to DeLand to help his mother with the diner.
A carpenter by profession, Kenny said he never planned to go into the restaurant business because he knew how time-consuming it was.
“If you’re not doing anything here or doing repairs, you go to the store to buy something here,” Kenny said.
Mike returned to DeLand in 2011 to help out at the restaurant, mostly in the kitchen.
“He has more finesse in meringue than I do,” Kenny said.
But at 70, Nancy could still outsmart her sons.
“It was just easy,” Mike said.
Kenny echoed this sentiment.
“What does the work of two men mean? One woman,” Kenny said. “And that was our mom, she was a machine.”
The brothers took over almost ten years ago when Nancy retired.
Kenny retired last year but still helps out his little brother when needed.
The brothers, both of whom are relocating to Waynesboro, Tennessee, agreed that their favorite part of working in the business was helping to preserve a legacy and spending time with their mother, who died in 2017 at age 78.
Mike’s fiancee Erika Braddock, a longtime waiter at Hunter’s, said she’s received a number of Facebook friend requests from visitors in their 70s and 80s since they announced the closure.
“I get closer to clients,” Braddock said. “They know my life.”
Over the past two weeks, several customers have asked Mike if they could buy an old sign that survived the fire or other memorabilia from the restaurant.
Mike holds on to them for more than just sentimental reasons.
“My cousin may one day rise, and Hunter’s cousin may rise from the ashes.”