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Patrons Hungry for Deli to Reopen After Weeklong Face Lift

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As of today, it will be business as usual.

The patrons of Solley’s Restaurant & Delicatessen will find the local landmark reopened in Woodland Hills.

The deli has been undergoing a $500,000, weeklong face lift, and many of its regular customers were not amused.

People climbed across the wooden barriers to demand to know what was happening.

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They squeezed by workmen, went inside, saw the naked interior, shook their heads and left in high dudgeon.

Others hunted down the owner to demand to know when the renovation nonsense would be over.

One irate customer called to find out how much longer he was going to have to eat his wife’s cooking.

Such a deal.

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Some people are famous for being in the movies.

Some people are famous for being famous.

Sol Zide is famous for owning a couple of Valley delicatessens that have become institutions to the patrons who have turned both the Woodland Hills and Sherman Oaks locations into something of a neighborhood social club.

Zide says he has been recognized by Valley patrons on trips to Hawaii, the Caribbean, Tahiti and Miami.

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“I remember going to Cabo San Lucas with my wife, Helen, and seeing one of the fishermen in a Solley’s T-shirt. That was pretty weird,” he says.

Zide says he’s been told that Wayne Gretzky’s picture is in the Hockey Hall of Fame wearing a Solley’s T-shirt.

Marlon Brando often heads for the Sherman Oaks Solley’s on Van Nuys Boulevard just south of the Ventura Freeway where he might be seated near O.J. Simpson’s attorney Robert Shapiro.

Barbra Streisand used to go to the Woodland Hills deli on Ventura Boulevard near Topanga Canyon until she got into a snit over not getting preferential treatment, according to Zide. Christian Slater and Heather Locklear don’t make a fuss about having to wait, the owner says.

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There’s a group of businessmen, known as the Bad Boys Breakfast Club, that has had breakfast at the Woodland Hills deli every day for so many years they made up a plaque to reserve their special table between 7 and 8 a.m. daily.

A second-generation deli man whose brother and sisters also have been in the business, Zide can’t think of anything else he would rather have done with his life, except maybe spend more time motorcycling or deep-sea fishing. But nobody is going to feel sorry for a guy whose office is the place where he would hang out if he didn’t already own it.

“My restaurants are like having an extended family. Most of the people who work for me have been here 20 and 30 years. My general manager, Brad Chamian, started out 18 years ago as a bus boy when he was a Calabasas High School student. He worked his way up from deli manager to assistant manager to store manager and now runs both places,” Zide says.

He says customers who have been coming regularly for 10 or 20 years now bring in their children and grandchildren. Sometimes, he says, people who have moved away come back on a sort of pilgrimage.

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Some of his employees have married other employees and even if they move away they send pictures of their children, according to Zide, who admits it’s a feel-good deal he fell into.

He smiles when he talks about his deli-operating father making the long drive to the Valley in the early ‘70s, taking a look at the space Zide had chosen to build his deli, and saying just two words: “Too big.”

As it happens, it wasn’t. In fact, Zide’s been doing nothing but growing ever since he opened the first place.

At one time he was considered the Deli King of the San Fernando Valley and had four delis going. It was too much like work, he says, so he sold two and kept the Sherman Oaks and original Woodland Hills spots.

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Zide says he is always trying to update the menus. If the latest food fad is egg whites with papaya and chili sauce, he will offer it.

He recently started offering tours of the bakery at the Sherman Oaks location. “People can’t get over the fact that we make all our own bakery products there,” he says.

They also can’t get over the idea he would close the Woodland Hills location for a whole week just to modernize it.

“We opened this location in 1973 with about 5,000 square feet and have grown to about 8,000. It was time to update things, give it a new look and bring in some new equipment. We did all the remodeling in just a week,” says Zide.

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His customers will be happy if he never does that again.

Nino Again Greeting the Rich and Famous

If the customers at Solley’s felt displaced during a weeklong make-over, consider the Angst of the Polo Lounge’s rich and famous.

The place-to-be-seen eatery in the Beverly Hills Hotel has been getting its face lifted for the past several years.

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No more Neil McCarthy salad.

No more table hopping and schmoozing.

No more Nino to put people in their proper position of power.

Sad, but true.

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If you know Nino Osti, you are probably in the entertainment business.

If Nino Osti knows you, you are probably a big shot.

For more than 20 years Nino drove from his comfortable, but modest, home in the Valley to the Beverly Hills Hotel where he was the maitre d’ of the Polo Lounge.

Like Cher and Madonna, people needed only to use his first name.

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His power was described in the travel industry’s Gold Book in an article titled, “Who’s Who in Beverly Hills”:

“In a town where one’s seating position often determines someone’s importance, Polo Lounge maitre d’ Nino is the barometer of success.”

Nino had as much star power as many of the high-profile people he seated, and his demeanor was likened to a Swiss bank president, a duke from Palermo or a four-star general.

His defining characteristic was, however, his genuine courtesy.

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Which is why there is much hand shaking and kissing from patrons frequenting the Beverly Hilton Hotel’s Trader Vic’s restaurant. Hotel owner Merv Griffin recently established Nino as the maitre d’ in that illustrious watering hole.

“After the Beverly Hills Hotel closed for renovation, I spent a lot of time listening to people who wanted to back me in new restaurants, but I kept hoping the Beverly Hills Hotel would reopen. I spent more than 20 years there,” Nino says.

After he, and everyone else in town, got to thinking that maybe the Beverly Hills Hotel was a never ending work-in-progress, Griffin called Nino at his new home in the Santa Clarita Valley and made an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“I was anxious to get back to work. I missed the people I used to see every day at the Polo Lounge,” says Nino. “I like seeing them all again, at Trader Vic’s which is, like the Polo Lounge, a place with a lot of entertainment-industry history.”

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Griffin has taken to sitting at the bar when Nino is working so Griffin can watch the response of the delighted guests when they spot Nino.

“He seems to be happy that people are glad to see me,” says Nino, “and so am I.”

Help Wanted at Canoga to Strike Up the Band

In addition to getting the new agriculture/environmental magnet started at Canoga Park High School this summer, Principal Larry Higgins has another problem.

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He’s had to face the music and admit that unless he finds a leader for the school orchestra there is not going to be anyone to strike up the band.

“Listen, this is a real problem. We had a great band leader and USC stole him. I’ve been looking all over for a new one. Please put it in the paper that if anyone has experience and is interested to call me.”

The call, if it comes, will be music to his ears.

Overheard

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“I wish the O. J. Simpson trial was a soap opera so it would be on every day.”

Girl talking to friend while waiting for a tennis court in Encino.


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