CORAL SPRINGS, FL – Shortly after the tiny neighborhood deli opens up for breakfast, dozens of customers are calling and walking in, most of them wanting their “usual” orders.
“I’ll take a sausage, egg, Cuban and potatoes,” Barry Feltman says.
Julian Cortes responds, “I know. It’s to go, right?”
Calm and smiling, Cortes is directing the traffic, chatting up the regulars while taking their orders and hustling to and from the kitchen to make sure the cooks are preparing each meal just right.
As the owner of Julian’s Bagel & Deli on Wiles Road, Cortes, 50, wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I have a passion for cooking for people. I love it more than anything when my customers tell me that they really like what is made here,” he said in a recent interview while taking a short break from the busy morning routine.
His customers are mostly the working class who come for relatively inexpensive, home-cooked meals: sanitation workers, auto mechanics, landscapers, and many others. He also prepares meals for those in need, never hesitating to give bagels or omelets to hungry children on their way to school. Among his most loyal patrons are Coral Spring firefighters and paramedics.
“He’s great,” said Frank Babinec, the city’s former fire chief who is now the city manager. “The food is really good. It’s affordable. And the customer service is outstanding, too.”
With a staff of four, the longtime Coral Springs resident has served breakfast and lunch in the one-bay restaurant on Wiles Road across from Costco for five years. Before that, Cortes ran another small restaurant for six years out of a Mobil gas station store just up the street on Wiles Road and Coral Ridge Drive.
Hopefully soon, Cortes said he wants to move to a larger restaurant next to the nearby Coral Springs Regional Institute of Public Safety on NW 120 Avenue, where he can add dinner and broaden his menu to include more international cuisines.
He built a devoted following during his time at the gas station, trying different ways to catch the attention of motorists, including cooking bacon in the kitchen and letting the smoky aroma fill the parking lot.
“People said: ‘what’s that smell?’ They loved it,” he said. “And that’s how it started.”
Cooking has been a part of his life since he was a child growing up in Mexico City. His grandfather owned a seafood restaurant and the young Cortes worked all kinds of jobs there. At 17, he moved to New Rochelle, New York and got a job in a 450-seat Italian restaurant where he worked his way up from dishwasher to lead cook.
In the early 1990s, he went with his ex-wife on a vacation to South Florida and never returned to New York. He took a deli job in Plantation and then moved up to Coral Springs to work as manager of Dyan's Country Kitchen.
One day, Cortes got an offer to open his own place at the Mobil station.
“I wasn’t scared. By then, I knew what I was doing,” he said. “So I went for it.”
Customers like Feltman followed Cortes as he moved from the gas station to his current spot. Feltman said he enjoys the food but ultimately he likes Cortes and wants to support him.
“I’m here all the time,” he said.
The bond with his customers is what keeps Cortes cooking. He’s looking to work for another five or six years and then hopefully retire.
“I’m not in this for the money. I have everything I need: a church I attend, good family and great customers,” he said. “What else do I need in life?”