The loyal customers of the Sandwich Society have mobilized.
Kay Richards, an aficionado of the bacon-egg-cheese sandwich who almost always drops by for a bite before work, has 2,000 signatures on a petition to save the no-frills lunchroom in Chevy Chase.
And dozens of Sandwich Society customers have written letters to the restaurant's landlord, who wants to shut it down.
"Restaurants like the Sandwich Society are, sadly, increasingly rare," Marjorie B. Runnion said in her letter to the Chevy Chase Land Co., the landlord. She said the closing would be a "loss to the whole local community, not only as a friendly, affordable restaurant but as a valuable neighborhood resource."
Alan L. Dessoff, who has a public relations company in Chevy Chase, was even more blunt in his letter: "You are making a colossal blunder by trying to evict the Sandwich Society."
"All we want, and we get it at the Sandwich Society, is a quick, good breakfast, lunch, cup of coffee, whatever, at a reasonable price."
Hundreds of such people patronize the Sandwich Society, a mom-and-pop eatery operated by Mary and Athos Hatziyannis in the Chevy Chase Center shopping mall north of the Friendship Heights Metro stop. The Chevy Chase Center, opened in 1952, now sits amidst the half-mile stretch of Wisconsin Avenue that includes the Mazza Gallerie, Cartier, Neiman Marcus and the soon-to-be-completed Chevy Chase Pavilion, a Georgetown Park-like shopping center.
The Hatziyannises, who have been running the sandwich shop for 23 years, have been unable to negotiate a new lease with the Chevy Chase Land Co. of Montgomery County.
"In January, they sent us a letter telling us to vacate the premises by Feb. 28, but we didn't leave . . . we stayed and kept paying the rent on a monthly basis," Hatziyannis said.
The Chevy Chase Land Co. filed a complaint against the Sandwich Society in May in an effort to obtain an eviction order to force the Hatziyannises from their location in the Chevy Chase Center. The Hatziyannises filed a counterclaim and asked for a jury trial in Montgomery County Circuit Court. A trial date is scheduled for September.
Edward Asher, vice president of the Chevy Chase Land Co., declined to say why he wants the couple to vacate the shopping center. "That matter is being adjudicated in court," he said.
At the heart of this battle is the storefront Sandwich Society location at 32 Wisconsin Circle. Here in a room that measures about 20 feet by 40 feet is where the Hatziyannises open for business at 5:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday.
Before closing at 6:30 p.m., they typically serve 400 to 500 people: lawyers with briefcases, middle-aged Indian women wearing colorful dresses, construction workers in worn jeans, elderly women in broad-brimmed hats, students in baggy shorts and sneakers, office workers and shoppers.
The business keeps 10 to 14 employees busy filling orders, washing dishes and dispensing good cheer.
Retiree Robert Huey, who is partial to grilled ham and cheese on white bread and who appreciates the attention he gets from the waitresses, comes in a couple of times a month for lunch at one of the tiny tables.
And errand runner Charlotte Post, who likes fast service but not fast food, pops in whenever she can for one of the 45-plus sandwiches on the menu. On this occasion, she was standing in the takeout line, waiting for a gyro and iced tea to go.
Baskets of ivy hang overhead in the room, which contains a counter with five stools and tables for 30 more customers. The sizzle of hamburger on the grill blends with the ring of the telephone, the rattle of dishes and the calls for an order of fries to go with a hot pastrami and corned beef combination.
Richards, a Chevy Chase store clerk, sees a connection between the effort to close the restaurant and the move to add even more glitz to the upper Wisconsin Avenue shopping complex.
"I think it is one of those stories where the big developers want to squeeze out the little guy and get in a bigger, upscale restaurant," Richards said.
That possibility holds no attractions for the Sandwich Society loyalists.
"We don't get any frills," Dessoff said, "but then we don't want any frills."