Smiling with Joe Hernandez

Long ago, Joe Hernandez's wife taught him that "the sale is in the smile." That was back in 1985, when Hernandez, at the age of 50, inspired by Colonel Sanders, who started KFC at the age of 65, decided to open Joe's Sandwich Shop. He smiled and smiled, and the business, at the corner of Main and Webster, survived for 18 years. Then, in 2003, Hernandez quit. The construction of Metro Light Rail did him in. "I lost my job, I lost my business and I lost my credit, but I never gave up," he says. Now in his seventies, Joe recently came out of retirement and opened Joe's Deli (1418 Preston), just a block away from Minute Maid Park. "I signed a 20-year lease on this place. I'll be 92 when it expires, and I'll still be smiling!" he says. Why did he go back to work? "I lost my wife of 44 years, and it was hard just sitting at home staring at the walls, so I told my kids, 'I want to open another place.' 'Go for it, Dad,' they said. Lots of people recognize me from a story they did on the TV at my grand opening, and my old customers are all glad I'm back, so you tell 'em Joe's back in town." We will, Joe.

The Press decided to pay him a visit recently and found the place being run by Joe Jr., who's just as much a salesman as his father, hustling to deliver Philly steak sandwiches. We decided instead to try the hand-formed, freshly made hamburgers, and now we see what all the fuss is about. You've got a lot to smile about, Joe.


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