Like many Jewish families, the Danas ate bagels nearly every Sunday morning. And for as long as Andrew Dana can remember, his father Jon—whom he fondly describes as “bagel-obsessed”—talked about opening a Jewish deli. Jon Dana is an attorney who never found the right time to make his deli a reality. But Andrew Dana, after earning his MBA and working in the tech industry for several years, did pursue a career as a restaurateur.
He is the co-owner of the highly successful Timber Pizza Co. in DC’s Petworth neighborhood. The restaurant has garnered awards and accolades both locally and nationally, including being named on the Michelin Guide 2019 Bib Gourmand list earlier this month. Still, his father’s deli dream was ingrained in the younger Dana. With the upcoming launch of his second restaurant, a Jewish deli named Call Your Mother, it’s finally a dream come true.
Dana grew up visiting his grandparents in Boca Raton, Florida, where eating at Jewish delis was part of the experience. He came to appreciate deli classics like tongue and chopped liver. “Going to visit my grandparents was a crash course in Judaism, culturally and through my belly.” When he was 26, the now 32-year-old went to Israel on Birthright, which strengthened his connection to Judaism.
As his deli was becoming a reality, one of the challenges was coming up with the name. He labored over the decision, wanting something lighthearted and fun. One night, he was brainstorming with friends, and they began tossing out phrases a Jewish mother or grandmother might say. Someone shouted, “Call your mother!” and he instantly knew this was it. “It just felt right; it felt fun and captured exactly what we’re trying to do,” says Dana. The restaurant’s tagline is “A Jew-ish deli.” “Since I’m not religious,” he says, “we decided to put in the dash. It allows for some creativity with the menu.”
Wood-fired bagels will be a main attraction at Call Your Mother. Dana and his partner, Chef Daniela Moreira, traveled to Montreal, Philadelphia and New York, where they tasted thousands of bagels before they landed on a recipe that combines the sweetness of Montreal bagels with the chew of New York bagels. They’ve been previewing the bagels at weekend farmers markets and have been unable to keep up with the demand. Long lines and early sell-outs are evidence of an enthusiastic audience, now clamoring for Call Your Mother to open.
Jon Dana is proud of his son’s newest venture. “When Andrew was growing up, I always went out on weekends to get bagels to bring home to the family. My favorite thing was getting bagels right out of the oven and eating one on the way home. No topping, just the bagel, warm and fresh,” he recalls. “I am living vicariously through Andrew, and it is so much fun. I dreamed of owning a deli and bagel shop, and he made it happen.”
Since Call Your Mother is the result of Andrew’s childhood nostalgia, he wanted to give others the chance to recreate their own memories. “Any time you talk about a deli or bagel shop people instantly tell you about their hometown deli or their experience growing up. We thought it would be fun for people to get involved in the creation of the menu.” The crowdsourcing took the form of a recipe contest with the winner—or winners—earning an opportunity to name their dish and to enjoy their namesake free for one year.
The restaurant will also feature a supper club with a rotating menu four nights a week. This gives the restaurateur another opportunity to feature Jewish food, including his grandmother Shirley’s brisket.
His grandparents inspire more than the menu at Call Your Mother. Dana calls the restaurant design “Boca meets Brooklyn.” “It’s cool and clean and not cluttered, à la Brooklyn. But we have teal and pink décor that is straight out of Boca. When I visited my grandparents in South Florida, we went to these places that were colorful and fun, and I just wanted to recreate that feeling.”
“Call your mother” is a reference to the concept of Jewish guilt—“You don’t call, you don’t write…” In creating a restaurant that reflects his Jewish heritage, Andrew Dana is giving us something to call home or to write about.
Photos courtesy of Call Your Mother