RIP Alan Canter, Patriarch Of Canter's Deli
A memorial happening today, at 12:30 p.m. at Mount Sinai Memorial Parks at Forest Lawn, will honor Alan Canter. The son of Canter's Deli founder Ben Canter, he passed away at the age of 82. His family made the announcement on Friday in a Facebook post:
"Our beloved owner, has passed away at age 82. He kept his family legacy alive and built an LA landmark. He worked 18 hour shifts and took pride in hand-cutting each fruit cup. He taught his children how to run this business just as his father taught him. We are deeply saddened by this loss."
"He's definitely going to be missed. He's part of the legend, part of Canter's," says current Sirius and former KROQ deejay Rodney Bingenheimer, one of the restaurant's most famous regulars.
After losing a Jersey City deli in the stock market crash of 1929, brothers Ben, Joe and Ruby Canter headed west. In 1931, they opened Canter Brothers Delicatessen in Boyle Heights, which was then the heart of Jewish Los Angeles. Their original address, 2323 Brooklyn Ave., is spitting distance from neighborhood standby George's Burgers, on what is now Cesar Chavez Ave.
Canter's menu of traditional deli items such as pickled herring, matzoh ball soup and corned beef sandwiches proved popular but the neighborhood's demographics were changing. The Jews of Boyle Heights had begun moving west with many of them settling near Fairfax Ave. between Melrose Ave. and Beverly Blvd., turning the area into the new hub of L.A.'s Jewish community.
The Canter family knew which side their rye bread was buttered on.
In 1948, Ben and his wife, Jennie, partnered with his daughter, Selma Udko, and her husband, Harold Price, according to the deli's website, to open a Canter's outpost at 439 N. Fairfax Ave.
The Los Angeles Times reports that "Ben and his best friend, Hymie Fisch, bought two connecting storefronts" to open this location. Either way, this was where Alan Canter, started as a pickle packer and delivery boy.
Before going into the restaurant business, Alan had been a mechanic who loved racing cars and tinkering with new ways to drive faster, his son Marc Canter told the L.A. Times.
In 1953, Canter's moved up the block.
The owners bought the Esquire Theater, known for showing Yiddish films, and transformed it into the restaurant we know today, at 419 N. Fairfax Ave.
Settling into these larger, snazzier digs, Canter's became one of the first 24-hour restaurants in the city.
Bingenheimer has been going there since he was 16 years old and still shows up almost every night. He holds court in a booth in the back, near the stairwell on the bakery side.
"My booth is across from Marilyn Monroe's table," Bingenheimer says. "Apparently, Marilyn Monroe and Shelly Winters used to come there all the time in the '50s. And even before Shelly Winters passed, she used to still come and sit in the same booth and tell the story about her and Marilyn sitting there."
In 1959, Canter's bought out the business next door, Cohen's Deli, and expanded.
Two years later, in 1961, Canter's opened the Kibbitz Room, the next door cocktail lounge. It soon became a favorite hangout for rockers, along with the restaurant.
Back in the day, you might've spotted Frank Zappa, Nancy Sinatra, Brian Wilson, Joni Mitchell and Jim Morrison there. Later, it attracted musicians like Fiona Apple, Courtney Love, Rick James, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Guns 'n' Roses. (Alan's son, Marc Canter, has been a close friend since childhood of Saul Hudson, better known as Slash.)
"In addition to destruction, Slash also had an appetite for pastrami sandwiches, Axl for tuna fish and Duff for barley bean soup," according to the L.A. Times.
Bingenheimer (aka Rodney on the Roq) shows up at Canter's around 10 or 10:30 p.m. He orders a cup of hot water with lemon (for his voice) and a bowl of his favorite barley bean soup.
"It's probably one of the best places, the only place that had 24 hours," he says. "We used to have a saying — all roads lead to Canter's — because you can go in there and there's always something happening there."
Tons of other celebrities have been spotted at Canter's (the restaurant has a web page chronicling its famous visitors). President Barack Obama even stumped there in 2014.
The Boyle Heights location hung on until the 1970s but it too closed.
Despite various ups and downs — a food truck, reduced hours, a shuttered Las Vegas location — Canter's Deli remains a family-owned business. Many of the waitresses and counter staff have been working at the restaurant for decades.
KPCC's own John Rabe says, "Two things stand out for me when it comes to Canter's. One, the unflappable waitstaff. No matter how crowded, when they get to you, they're all yours. Two, the chicken in a pot. For under $20, you get at least three meals, including a restorative chicken soup."
Alan Canter is survived by his son, his daughter and five grandchildren.
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