Junior’s Deli, a 53-year-old Westside staple, will close at the end of the year, narrowing the ranks of Jewish delis in Southern California.
Employees, some of them multi-decade veterans of the business, learned Wednesday of the comfort food haven’s impending shutdown, a casualty of a rent dispute over the 11,000-square-foot space.
“It’s catastrophic for me,” said David Saul, who co-owns the business with his brother John. “I’m at a loss. It’s like I’m grieving a death.”
The Sauls’ father, Marvin, launched the delicatessen in 1959 after a failed stint as a uranium miner in Utah. Junior was his nickname as a child.
Originally on Pico Boulevard, the deli was moved to its current location in 1967. The space includes the delicatessen, a bakery, a restaurant and a catering business.
Over more than half a decade, celebrities such as Bruce Willis and Hank Azaria frequented the joint. Mel Brooks purportedly wrote parts of his classic film “History of the World: Part 1” in the dining room.
Each year from 1971 on, Marvin hammered out a rental agreement with Beverly Hills-based landlord Four Corners Investments.
But just over a year ago, he passed away of a heart attack at age 82. Now, after attempting to raise Junior’s rent, Four Corners “has just decided that [they’re] not going to negotiate any further,” Saul said.
Managers at the real estate firm could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
“We were blindsided,” Saul said. “They want a number that we can’t give and they’re not willing to bend.”
The eatery has also seen a slump in business in recent years.
In the early 2000s, Junior’s was pulling in more than $7 million a year in revenue. Sales have slumped 20% in the past three years. Food costs have surged -- with the Saul brothers paying nearly $4 for a pound of corned beef, up from $1.15 a pound 10 years ago.
From a high of 150 employees a decade ago, the deli’s head count has deflated to 95 workers.
“Customers don’t want to pay $13 for a sandwich,” Saul said. “For a lot of people in today’s economic times, that’s a hard thing to stomach. They’d rather go to a Subway or something.”
Junior’s will abandon its current location within the week, Saul said. But he hopes to eventually reopen the deli somewhere else with a “more 21st century” vibe.
“The allure of delis has been tarnished over the years,” Saul said. “People won’t recognize what they had until they’ve lost it.”