Often described as a staple of the University’s Corner, Littlejohn’s Delicatessen on University Avenue has a base of dedicated, long-time patrons. Founded by University alumnus John Crafaik Jr. in 1976, the sandwich shop has long been beloved by students, Charlottesville residents and visitors alike for its New York-style sandwiches and welcoming environment.
Thus, it came as a personal tragedy for many when Littlejohn’s temporarily closed its doors this spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Littlejohn’s has a widespread community pushing to keep the sandwich shop alive.
Charlottesville restaurateur Bo Stockton — a native of Charlottesville and the owner of several restaurants in the area — has been a leading figure in the effort to save Littlejohn’s.
“I've been running restaurants on the Corner for almost two decades,” Stockton said. “I ran The Virginian for 15 years. I ran The Biltmore for 10 years while I was running The Virginian, and I bought Michael's Bistro in June of last year, and Littlejohn's was our downstairs neighbor.”
As someone whose early life and occupation has brought him close to Littlejohn’s, Stockton believes the small business holds a unique value for Charlottesville residents.
“When COVID hit, [the Littlejohn’s location] became prime for another potential corporate place to move into, and that's what we won't allow,” Stockton said. “This is a Charlottesville staple, and it's been around for over 40 years. We all love it, we know how to do it — let's raise some money.”
Stockton and his partners launched a virtual fundraising campaign via GoFundMe, which will be put toward the assets the restaurant would need to resume operations. The GoFundMe’s target amount is $85,000.
“It just takes so much operation capital to get a restaurant up and running,” Stockton said. “You have to look at things like initial purchases. You have to fill your store with fresh ingredients. You have to fill your cold delis … You have to have a cash runway in order to pay employees that you hire … Every penny that goes into the GoFundMe is going to go into the operation of Littlejohn’s.”
According to Stockton, the fundraising effort has already received considerable attention and support from the community.
“We had a University of Virginia soccer player, who, I think, played on the women's World Cup team donate and comment,” Stockton said. “There's been so many super responses — the lacrosse team, Kip Turner, so many people … that have made us, as a group, feel like we’re doing the right thing.”
Another among the business’s fanbase is Lara Morris, Charlottesville native and University alumna, who began eating at Littlejohn’s in her early childhood.
“The first time I went to Littlejohn's I was tiny,” Morris said. “But I do remember it because I was a really picky eater at the time. I liked really plain sandwiches, so they whipped up something special for me, and they gave it a name so I didn't feel like I was just ordering a boring sandwich. It was a special moment.”
The memory is the first of many dear ones for Morris, who continued to eat at Littlejohn’s throughout her childhood and eventually during her time as a University student. Morris’s sentiments for Littlejohn’s and University life have stood the test of time.
“[Littlejohn’s] was one of the first places that I took all of my suitemates when I was showing them around,” Morris said. “One of my favorite things to do my last year would be, after a night out, to grab a Chipotle Chicken and … blueberry muffins, and then I would [have] a blueberry muffin the next morning in my bag ... it was the best present ever.”
Second-year Engineering student Julia Joachim also recalls her first of many times to the delicatessen.
“Littlejohn’s will always hold a special place in my heart because it was one of the first places I ate at when I toured U.Va. as a junior in high school,” Joachim said. “After coming to U.Va., it was always a spot where people went to get good sandwiches and just hang out.”
Beyond all of the fond memories that make Littlejohn’s a special place for so many people, the business’s commitment to ethical practices cannot be ignored. Stockton emphasized the financial importance of the business for its employees.
“One of the things that is foremost in our minds is paying [employees] a living wage,” Stockton said. “[Littlejohn’s] offers more money than you're going to make anywhere else on the Corner … If you're a part time dishwasher that works for us and you need some help, we're going to help you.”
Morris also underscored the money-related benefits of Littlejohn’s, as the restaurant sells its food at generally affordable prices.
“[With Littlejohn’s], the price point's right,” Morris said. “You can go into Littlejohn's and see a complete cross-section of Charlottesville and U.Va., and I think in times like this it's important to hold onto those places that make us all feel really welcome and really happy.”
As one of many Charlottesville residents who love Littlejohn’s and consider it part of the city’s identity, Stockton urges community members to continue growing the GoFundMe to save the business.
“Charlottesville has been surrounded in recent times by turmoil,” Stockton said. “It has been represented in the national media with negativity … It is a representation of the people that live here and who we are, and I am not going to stand idly by and watch it fail.”