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Comin' Through the Rye…

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We are not happy to hear that Junior's Delicatessen will be closing its doors over on Westwood Boulevard in a week or so. They say it may reopen elsewhere but restaurants always say that when they close down involuntarily and few ever return.

I hope Junior's turns out to be an exception…but even then, its main appeal wasn't the cuisine, which was pretty standard deli fare. It was the location. If you needed to meet someone for lunch near the intersection of Westwood and Pico Boulevards, Junior's wasn't just the easy, obvious choice. It was darn near the only choice. Plus, I had a long-standing history with the place. As I wrote last year here when its proprietor died…

When I was but a wee lad, my mother sometimes took me into a wonderful but tiny delicatessen on Pico Boulevard, just east of Westwood. The building, considerably expanded in square footage, is now a Maria's Italian Kitchen. But back then, it was mainly a deli counter with about five tables for dining. The two brothers would cut and sell meat and cheese to go or they'd build you a sandwich and personally serve it to you at one of their tables.

We became regulars at the Saul Brothers' little deli, which was called Junior's. They always recognized us and one or the other of them would give me a free shtickel…or maybe it was spelled "shtickle." I have never seen these anywhere else but they were like little salamis, each good for about four bites. It took longer to get the cellophane wrapper off the shtickel than it did to eat it. They were displayed in a little bin atop the deli counter with a handmade sign that said, "It used to be a nickel a shtickel. Now it's a dime. Ain't it a crime?" I have never seen them anywhere else and I wonder if anyone even makes them anymore. Once in a while, my lunch would consist of a shtickel and a pickle. If you want to grow up to write poems, try eating a lot of foods that rhyme.

Business was good at Junior's. It must have been because one day they moved into a much bigger building around the corner on Westwood…and then they began expanding that building, buying up the shops on either side and knocking out walls. Soon it was and still is a rather huge deli and Marvin Saul rarely cut the meat anymore. Instead, he ran the place with unceasing energy. If you walked in there at any hour, you'd see this man scurrying about and you'd know that was the owner. It had to be. (Marvin Saul's brother soon moved out to the valley and opened his own deli.)

Junior's is still a thriving business and I go there often. So does Mel Brooks, who is quoted in the L.A. Times obit for Marvin Saul, who just left us at the age of 82. I often saw Mr. Saul there — and Mr. Brooks too, for that matter. A lot of show biz folks considered Junior's a great place to "do lunch." Saul claimed to vaguely remember me, especially after I recited the little shtickel jingle for him. He said he didn't know where to get them or he'd still be selling them, though he laughed and said, "Well, if I did sell them today, the poem wouldn't work. We'd have to price them at a buck or so." I said, "You can say, 'It used to be a nickel a shtickel. Now it's a dollar. Don't scream and holler!' Or 'Now it's a buck. You're outta luck!'"

Junior's is closing, the L.A. Times says, because its landlord has raised the rent. I'm guessing that means they have another restaurant that wants the building and will pay big for it. Like I said, it's a great location. They'd still be open if they'd received a tiny cut on all the movie and TV deals made there.

I think I read that it was at Junior's that Conan O'Brien met and hired Andy Richter. If I were Conan, I'd grab Andy and run over there this week with a camera crew and a wrecking crew, the latter to physically extract the booth in which they first got together. Someone's got to do something to mark the end of that era because it was more than just a place to get a decent corned beef sandwich. It was Junior's. Whatever goes in there next won't be able to say that…