RALEIGH — The same smiling face has greeted customers at Jack Daniels' Grocery and Deli for 40 years.
But last week, the West Raleigh store's namesake was conspicuously absent from his post behind the counter.
Jack Milton Daniels, 60, was killed Tuesday when his car got in the path of an Amtrak train near the intersection of Royal and Hillsborough streets. Regulars coming into the tiny shop, tucked away on a corner of Jones Franklin Road, were shocked and saddened to hear of Daniels' death.
"Jack was here for the community," said Kara Bond, Daniels' sister-in-law, who worked with him for several years. "People came to this store for him; they didn't come for anybody else. They would come for good conversation and the smile on his face. They came to feel like they were wanted here."
In that spirit, the family kept the store open for customers even as they reeled from Daniels' death.
"Jack would have wanted it like this," Bond said.
Most customers couldn't recall a time they walked into the store without having a conversation with Daniels, a Cary native. A Vietnam War veteran, he opened the store with his mother, Doris, in 1969. After she died, he took over the business.
Jack Daniels' Grocery and Deli seems like a relic from another time, with its lone gas pump out front and homey charm. Family members said Daniels was devoted to the shop, working 16 hours a day beside his wife and best friend, Nanette, whom he met during a brief stint as a traveling salesman in the South and Midwest.
Delight in grandchild
Daniels returned to Cary to raise his only daughter, Kara Daniels Hand. As of late, though, Daniels had been playing hooky from the shop for the first time that anyone could remember -- to be with his granddaughter, Emmie Reed Hand, 11 weeks old.
Teresa Jones, 29, burst into tears when she saw Daniels' obituary and a collection of cards and flowers adorning the front door of the deli.
"I didn't expect to be this torn up about it," Jones said. "But when I saw that wreath on the door, it hurt me."
Employees and customers comforted each other and swapped stories about the man who over the years had become a staple of their daily lives.
"He was really funny -- always cracking jokes," Jones said. "Mind you, not at first. You had to get to know him. ... He loved his family, he loved his wife, and he will be dearly missed."
Shelly Brown, 45, who works in an office down the street, looked up at the deli menu in shock after learning of Daniels' death.
"Coming in here is not like going to Subway or something," Brown said. "It's like coming in and having your family make you lunch."
The family has no plans to close Jack Daniels' Grocery and Deli. They said they will keep on offering the community what Daniels built as his legacy: service with a smile.
"This store has supported this family for a very long time," said Linda Murray, 66, who flew from Vermont to be near Bond, her daughter. "The family will continue to keep hope."
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