Deli Man to the (Political) Stars

January 24, 1995

Annapolis residents are fond of saying that theirs is a real town, not a museum like Williamsburg or a cluster of trendy bars like Georgetown in Washington, D.C.

Charles A. "Chick" Levitt, who died Sunday at age 67, was one of those who made Annapolis real.

Thirty years ago, Mr. Levitt and his wife, Ruth, moved from Baltimore to Annapolis, bought a sandwich shop on Main Street and renamed it Chick and Ruth's Delly. The quirky little delicatessen with its orange and yellow walls soon became a gathering place for state and local politicians. Today, it is as much a part of Annapolis' character as Church Circle, salt air and the City Dock.

Early on, Mr. Levitt and his wife started naming their sandwiches after political stars; the Lyndon Johnson was a steak and cheese with onions on a kaiser roll; the William Donald Schaefer was a kosher hot dog with melted cheese and bologna.

National acclaim followed. The deli was featured in a National Geographic article on Maryland's capital city in 1988. When President Clinton was tardy responding to Mr. Levitt's letter asking what sandwich he preferred in his name, talk shows from Miami to California called Mr. Levitt. The president's choice: turkey on whole wheat.

Throughout the years, the names of the sandwiches on the menu board were updated, but little else about Chick and Ruth's changed. Mr. Levitt, who sported a bow tie and suspenders, worked at the deli seven days a week and lived in an apartment upstairs. He filled both the stomachs and ears of the politicians who came to his deli. Mr. Schaefer came often to schmooze. Former Gov. Marvin Mandel breakfasted in a reserved booth called the "Governor's Office." Famous visitors included Marilyn Quayle when her husband was vice president and Attorney General Janet Reno.

Although politics swirled about him, Mr. Levitt himself usually stayed out of the fray. The exception was in 1993 when the Annapolis City Council sought to ban neon signs, including the ones in Chick and Ruth's window, which read, "Delicatessen," "Breakfast," and "Kosher-style sandwiches."

Some said that neon was not in character with historic Annapolis, but Mr. Levitt favored the old-fashioned to the historic. He argued that his neon sign was older than the city's historic district commission (which it was); eventually the City Council dropped the issue.

In a place where pretense can get spread a little thick, Chick Levitt was the genuine article.

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