Meet Annapolis' 'Mama Judy': 3 little-known facts about the Big Cheese owner

Lauren Lumpkin
Contact Reporterllumpkin@capgaznews.com

Those who know Judy Schwartzberg well call her “Mama Judy” because of the way she takes care of her customers.

Schwartzberg and her husband of 55 years, Bob, have owned The Big Cheese and Sammy’s Deli in downtown Annapolis for more than two decades. Known for fresh-to-order sandwiches stacked with European cheeses, it feels more like a family room than a sandwich shop. Schwartzberg says it’s intentional. She wants her customers to feel like they’re at home.

Schwartzberg says she has no secrets, but there are three things most people don’t know about the restaurateur.

Bob Schwartzberg proposed to her with a baked potato. In 1962, Bob took Judy to his friend’s house in Massachusetts for Thanksgiving. “I was trying to figure out how to give her the engagement ring, so I put it in a big baked potato,” Bob said. When the potato landed on her plate, Judy said she thought it was diseased. The potato was big and lumpy; Bob wrapped the ring in wax paper before stuffing it inside. She poked and prodded at the potato and, refusing to eat it, passed it to Bob. Bob passed it to the next guest, and the potato made its way around the table, back to Judy’s plate. When she finally started to open the potato, she found the ring and was “elated.” They got married four months later.

She’s named sandwiches after each of her grandchildren. There are close to 70 sandwiches on The Big Cheese’s menu, but four are close to Judy Schwartzberg’s heart. Her grandchildren — Sam, 22; Ben, 16; Bryton, 12; and Alexanna, 11 — each have a sandwich named after them.

She closes The Big Cheese every day at 5 p.m. for date night. “It’s nothing fancy,” Schwartzberg said. The couple has eaten their way around Annapolis, but Paul’s Homewood Cafe on West Street is their favorite. It’s also where they renewed their vows on their 50th wedding anniversary.

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