Junior’s Delicatessen II
The original Junior’s Delicatessen opened near the intersection of Pico and Westwood in West L.A. in 1959. As explained here, it was a small operation run by the Saul Brothers that mainly sold corned beef and other deli food to go. But they had a handful of tables and if you wanted to have a sandwich there, one of the brothers would make it and bring it to your table. It was on Pico, a few blocks east of Westwood.
In 1967, they moved to a new building that was more of a restaurant on Westwood. Almost instantly, Junior’s became one of great local success stories for that kind of business. I was a regular customer but I never found the place outstanding. The corned beef wasn’t as good as Art’s. The potato salad wasn’t as good as Nate ‘n Al’s. The chicken soup wasn’t as good as Canter’s and so on. A deli doesn’t have to do all those things well but it ought to do one thing better than everyone else in town. If Junior’s did, I never ordered it. (I feel the same way about Factor’s and Jerry’s, though I’m sure commenters here can tell me of many things they’ve loved at all these places.)
What Junior’s had going for it was a good, friendly feel and a great location. If you had to meet a friend or business associate for lunch in that area, it wasn’t merely the best choice. It was darn near the only one. So I went there often and was never unhappy, except sometimes with the bill or the parking lot. And it did have the main stamp of approval that a deli has to have in Los Angeles: You could sometimes spot Mel Brooks eating there.
Junior’s was such a fixture of the neighborhood that it came as a shock when its closure was announced in December of 2012. It closed the last day of the year. What happened? It depends on who you ask.
Marvin Saul, who founded and ran Junior’s, died near the end of 2011 and control of the business passed to his sons, David and John. In a newspaper article, David blamed their landlords who were trying to raise the rent and were “not willing to bend” on “a number that we can’t give.” He cited rising food costs. In response, the landlords (a firm called Four Corners Investment Co.) blamed the sons. A spokesperson said that they’d had an excellent working relationship with Marvin Saul and had actually lowered the rent below what Junior’s was contractually obligated to pay, hoping that a declining business could turn around. When it came time to renew the lease for 2013, the two sides were unable to agree on a number. The Four Corners people suggested that the sons simply did not have the management skills of the father and that may be so. It may also be so that the Four Corners folks saw an opportunity to bring in a tenant with better prospects and a willingness to pay the full rental value of the property.
Given that I often felt the food was overpriced and not as good as it should have been, I’m inclined to think that Junior’s best days were in the past. But somehow, maybe because it was a part of my world for so long, I already miss the place and hope that reports of it reopening somewhere else will prove true. If they’d gotten a cut of every business deal made at their tables, the place would still be the gold mine that it was for Sauls in the late sixties through about the nineties.