Eddie Leonard called his sandwich "The Original" - cold cuts, onion, lettuce, pickle, peppers, oregano, other seasoning and oil on either a 6-inch or a 12-inch roll.
It soon made Leonard a household name in submarine sandwiches here Paintings of "The Original" have decorated the walls of his sparsely furnished, long-hours fast-food shops since they first opened in 1954. "I have never changed," Leonard says. "I served the same quantity and the same quality."
Yet change, it appears, eventually overtakes all - even the submarine sandwich. Leonard, now 72, is selling off his sandwich shops and says he plans soon to retire. As a condition of each shop's sale, Leonard adds, the Eddie Leonard name must be removed within three months from all storefronts and menus. The Eddie Leonard "original" has apparently entered its last days.
Over the years, Leonard's chain operated as many as eight sandwich shops at a time at scattered locations, mainly in the District. In recent years, several were forced to close because of urban renewal and private development. Leonard says he has recently sold four sites and hopes this summer to sell his remaining two, one of them at 3335 Connecticut Ave. NW and the other in Silver Spring.
The carry-out shops, often crowded at 10 p.m. or later when many other restaurants are shut for the night,offer the same menus. They include eight varieties of cold subs - among them the "original" - and nine hot sub specialties, ranging from hamburgdf to steak and cheese. They sell pizza, soft drinks and coffee., The counter tops are Formica and "No Loitering" signs are hung on the walls.
Many of thw shops' patrons are people in a hurry. "It's fast. You're hungry. Your time is limited," Leroy Joseph, an offset printer, remarked as he bought a ham-and eggs sub at an Eddie Leonard shop yesterday afternoon. Other customers have time on their hands and hang about for hours.
Holdups have plagued several Eddie Leonard shops.Leonard himself says his chain has been robbed 40 to 50 times over the years, sometimes losing as much as $800 to a thief. "Nothing frightens me," says Leonard, an ex-boxer. "I'm just fearless that way."
ZThe eddie Loenard name is, in fact, a boxing pseudonym. He was born Bernard Leonard Simon, but during his years as a flyweight boxer, Leonard said in an interview, he adopted a new name, modeling it on Benny Leonard, a lighweight boxing champion. Leonard stands only 5 feet 4 1/2 inches tall and, though he weighed 112 pounds in his boxing days, he says he now weighs 150.
Washington is also Leonard's adopted city. He was born and grew up in Baltimore, going to work as a typesetter at the age of 14. He boxed in 105 flyweight matches, losing only five times, he said, and earning as much as $25,000 a year before he quit the ring in 1929.
He remained in Baltimore, helping to run a confectionery store, later fconverted to a bar, and then owning Eddie Leonard's Spa Musical Bar, a cocktil lounge. He also refereed professional boxing matches. When he opened his fist sandwich shops in Washington, he says, he patterned them on Harley's Restaurants, a similar Baltimore chain.
In Washington at the time, Leonard says, his shops were a novelty. "There was no such thing as a submarine sandwich shop," he asserted.
Since then, Leonard said, little has changed at Eddie Leonard Sandwich Shops, except for the price of a sandwich. A 6-inch "original," he said, cost 35 cents when his first shops opened here in 1954. it now costs $1.50. The price of a 12-inch "original" has risen since from 60 cents to $2.90.
He has decided to sell his booming business for two reasons - "my age and my health," Leonard said. He has been diagnosed by his doctor, he said, as having hardening of his arteries and several small blockages in blood vessels, though neither ailment has caused him any pain or forced him to miss a day of work.
Leonard hopes to net about $600,000 through the sale of his restaurants, he said, and plans to spend much of the money to establish a salad and sandwich restaurant - a more elaborate enterprise than his carry-out shops - in the Maryland suburbs, probably near Rockville. He will turn over the new restaurant, he said, to his son, Bud Leonard, and son-in-law, Ed Ryder.
Although the Eddie Leonard name will apparently vanish from Washington's fast-food submarine shops, some of the shops themselves may remain largely unchanged. Al Afzal, a fast-food businessman who bought the busy Eddie Leonard shop at 18th Street and Columbia Road, NW said yesterday he expects to change little besides its name. "Basically, the menu's going to stay the same," Afzal said.