Customers at Max’s Kosher Café in Wheaton in Wheaton line up to get food on Thursday. The business closed Thursday after 28 years. Credit: Photos by Dan Schere

For Ben Meyers of Kensington, a falafel pita at Max’s Kosher Café in Wheaton is the “closest thing to the Middle East in the United States” at least foodwise. After Thursday, though, he and other faithful customers of the longstanding restaurant will have to look elsewhere for their falafel and shawarma fix.

Max’s, which served a variety of Middle Eastern and deli specialties, closed Thursday after 28 years at its home on University Boulevard West. Co-owner Larry Dekelbaum says he and the other owners  are hoping to move the deli about 2 miles away into the Kemp Mill shopping center in Silver Spring, near the Shalom Kosher supermarket, which is owned by the same parent company as Max’s.

During Thursday’s lunch hour at the café, a line had formed as customers placed their last orders at the cash register, then watched as a restaurant employee put the desired toppings on their pitas. A paper sign written in marker directed customers to “please order at the register first” in one line, and then go through the second line to receive their food.

Thursday’s clientele was a mix of young and old. Meyers was like many of the customers in line who said they had been scarfing down falafels and shawarmas at Max’s since their days learning Algebra in grade school. He says if the café relocates to Kemp Mill, he’ll make the trip.

“If they’re able to get over there — it’s a longer drive — but I’ll still go,” he said.

Talya Kravitz, who was in line Thursday, grew up in a Jewish community in Montgomery County, attending Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville. Max’s was often a frequent hangout, she said.

“We’d almost always see a classmate or a parent of a classmate. It was kind of just part of the greater community,” she said.

Kravitz said on Thursday that she hadn’t been back to the café in a while.

“When I heard it was closing, I thought, ‘What are people gonna do?’ It just feels like there’s gonna be a piece missing,” she said.

Jackson Sands, now 20, said he grew up in Washington, D.C., but he’s been coming to Max’s since he was at least 11.

“It’s definitely sad,” he said. “I’ve been coming to this place my whole life.”

Joshua Muravchik, a Glenmont resident who’s been frequenting Max’s almost since its opening in 1994, said the closing is a “huge loss to the community.” He had become friendly with a chef from Haifa, Israel, who’d worked at the café over the years. Not having Max’s falafel or shawarma anymore will leave a “big hole in his diet,” he said.

Diner Gabriella Dominguez, a paralegal at the law firm Stein Sperling on Georgia Avenue, said Thursday that she’s going to miss the ability to walk a few blocks for lunch, or order catering from Max’s as many of the attorneys often do.

“Now we’ve got to take a walk around the block here and see what else they have to offer,” she said. “See, I didn’t even pay attention to the other places because I used to come straight here. It won’t replace this though.”

Although the immediate future of Max’s is uncertain, Dekelbaum says he and his co-owners expect to keep operating their seasonal stands at Washington Commanders games at FedEx Field in Landover and at Washington Nationals games at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. But the charm of 2319 University Blvd., with its tile floor and spacious dining area with many tables, will be no more after Thursday.

“I’m sad to see it go. This place hasn’t changed since it opened,” Kravitz said.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com