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A year ago, Canter’s was laying off employees. Today, the deli welcomed back regulars

Kelly Cox, left, and Rick Ingold at Canter's Delicatessen.
Canter’s Delicatessen regulars Kelly Cox, left, and Rick Ingold have breakfast Monday.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

This time last year, Jacqueline Canter, co-owner of Canter’s in Los Angeles, spent her birthday laying off about 100 employees by phone, hoping she’d be able to call them back when the delicatessen could reopen.

“It was so heartbreaking,” she said. “I had no idea [the pandemic] would go on for a year.”

This weekend, she called some employees to offer them their jobs back. The famous deli on Fairfax Avenue was reopening Monday.

She and her brother Marc Canter, 56, worked all night Sunday preparing the restaurant. They had to tune up refrigeration that had not been used for nine months. They had to turn on the power in the main dining room and move tables eight feet apart. They wiped down tables and booths and anything else that needed sanitizing. When opening time came Monday, it rained.

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Phillip Guttman and Jacqueline Canter
Phillip Guttman gets a gift of freshly baked cookies from Jacqueline Canter, co-owner of Canter’s Delicatessen.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

“Usually, people come in here on a rainy day to have soup,” Jacqueline said. “But today, the rain didn’t help us.”

Los Angeles County on Monday unlocked a significant portion of its battered business sector, allowing the return of indoor restaurant dining and the resumption of indoor activities at gyms, movie theaters and other venues.

Proprietors like the Canters hope the latest round of openings — prompted by falling numbers of new coronavirus cases and rising vaccinations — will give the region’s economy a desperately needed shot in the arm. The other times they could reopen were short-lived as infections exploded and the state went into another round of lockdowns.

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So this time around, Jacqueline was happy to call employees and hire them back. She said for most of the year, the restaurant has been operating with about 50 workers; this week she was able to hire 10 more.

“We’re taking it one step at a time,” Marc said.

Canter's on Fairfax.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

On Monday morning, four regulars sat in booths, eating breakfast. A cashier picked up the phone; people were inquiring if the deli was open. Two workers prepared roast beef and pastrami sandwiches. There was a hint of pickles in the air. Waitresses delivered food and topped off coffee.

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Among the customers was Bob Knee, 72, who has been coming to the restaurant since he was 16. He ordered sausage and eggs. He said eating indoors felt “normal again.”

“It’s wonderful,” he said.

Marc Canter said he has seen increased foot traffic and has watched as other restaurants with outdoor seating have become busier in the past six months. “The sun is out, and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

Outside, the clouds had parted. There was sunlight. Inside the restaurant, Knee finished eating. Elizabeth Núñez, 32, a waitress, delivered the bill.

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She had been one of the unfortunate employees laid off a year ago. During her time away, she stayed home and took care of her four kids, acting as mother, cook, waitress and teacher, sometimes all at once. “It was stressful,” she said.

She said she was happy to be back at work.

As she dropped off the bill, Knee joked with her: “I didn’t order any of that.”

Núñez squinted her eyes, showing a hint of a smile. “Goofball,” she said.

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Knee laughed.


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