On Greenblatt’s Deli’s last night, guests waited for one final taste
On Wednesday night, Greenblatt’s served its last pastrami sandwich. The iconic Sunset Strip deli had re-upped on the brined meat three times during the course of its final day, but it was long gone before the end of service.
Owner Jeff Kavin confirmed the closure on Wednesday night; decades of regulars lined up through the 95-year-old Jewish deli and wine shop to purchase their final knishes and bottles. Servers whisked by with plates piled high with sandwiches for the guests lucky enough to grab a seat upstairs or place orders before the staff halted food service for fear of running out.
Word spread slowly, unconfirmed at first over social media and Reddit threads toward the start of the week; Kavin, staff said, wanted to close quietly. By the deli’s last hour of business, wine was disappearing off shelves at a rapid clip. After food orders shut down, guests became desperate for a final taste. One wandered up to a woman behind a register: Could she purchase any leftover lox for cash? Would they sell it to her then? She reiterated she could pay in cash; the staff member said that didn’t really matter.
“Are we still taking orders?” A server craned their neck toward Kavin.
“We are not,” he firmly responded.
Emily Marks, one of Greenblatt’s more recent hires, said the staff learned of the closure on Monday and that it had been a whirlwind ever since. The crush of regulars, former employees and local restaurateurs coming in to say thank you was touching, and not just for Kavin.
“He was totally shocked. He did not expect that, not whatsoever,” Marks said. “At the end of the night he was saying that all of these people were coming up to him and saying, ‘Thank you, thank you for staying open for so long, thank you for being here,’ and he was like, ‘I didn’t know that people felt that way.’”
Marks said she made more than $500 in tips that night and received phone numbers from a number of the regulars, to stay in touch.
Kavin declined to comment on closing night but provided a statement the next morning: “I started to take over the running of the business from my dad almost 40 years ago,” he wrote. “The COVID-19 crisis was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me at my age. I really enjoyed my years at Greenblatt’s and all of the wonderful people I met.”
The restaurant had temporarily closed for two months at the beginning of the pandemic, then pivoted to a takeout-and-delivery-only format. Recently Greenblatt’s reopened indoor dining, but going back and forth was too much. Kavin added that he plans to lease the restaurant space to another business and that there is no deal in place.
“People were offering hundreds of dollars for pastrami,” Marks said after her final shift. “Everybody was trying to finagle; as soon as we cut off the line for service, there were people from the line trying to sit with people who already had tables, so they could sneak in. I was like, ‘I’m waiting on them! I know them! You’re not going to fool me.’”
Some guests snaking through the restaurant had only recently begun visiting the deli; others were lifelong patrons. Riona O’Donnell’s first taste was at 5 months old.
The child actor, now 10, waited patiently with her mother, Lita O’Donnell, in the line between two shelves of dwindling wine. Her parents had been customers for roughly 20 years, stopping by for a meal or shopping for wine after a hike at Runyon Canyon — or simply any time they were nearby.
When Riona had a doctor’s appointment closeby, Lita knew it was time for her daughter’s first visit, even at 5 months old. “I was like, ‘Well, you’re an O’Donnell,’” she said, “‘You have to have corned beef in March,’ and it just started from there.” Their order? Always the No. Three (pastrami or corned beef with Swiss cheese, coleslaw and Russian dressing) with macaroni salad.
“I’ve always enjoyed it, it’s kind of been like a tradition,” Riona said. “Like if you get a paycheck, then you could get Greenblatt’s, there’s a possibility! It’s kind of like a reward, and I’m sad to see it go.” It is, she said, a little like a reliable side character: You always expect it’s going to be there.
Joe Harris has lived up the street from Greenblatt’s for the last decade and like the O’Donnells, also loved the No. Three with macaroni salad. But he was always partial to the pastrami as well as the potato knish with a little pool of gravy.
He’d drop by weekly, and more often when friends or family came to town and requested a trip to the famous deli.
On Monday, unaware of the impending closure, he stopped by for matzo ball soup. He didn’t make the cutoff for food orders on Wednesday night, so his final purchase became a bottle of Old Bardstown whiskey, a brand he’d discovered on a prior visit. “Might as well grab one last one before I go,” he said. “I was hoping for a grilled pastrami Reuben, but you know how it is.”
Farther ahead in line, almost to the counter, two friends considered the remaining stock.
As soon as Jason Rechtman learned of the closure, he texted his friend and colleague, Michael Colorge, who immediately rescheduled meetings in order to make the trek from his home in Van Nuys. Rechtman raced over from Century City, and they both arrived around 6 p.m.; they were halfway through the looping line when the staff halted food orders.
“They were still taking orders around 6:30, quarter to 7,” Rechtman said. “All we heard was clapping and then we later found out they were saying ‘No more new orders unless you’re going upstairs.’ Some people ran up the stairs, and then they said, ‘OK, not here either.’”
Rechtman first started dining at Greenblatt’s around the age of 14 when he moved to Los Angeles with his parents. He estimates he’d made it in four or five times in the past year; Colorge said he visited the restaurant yearly.
“My dad and I usually took the Red Line to go to Langer’s, or Canter’s and I would drive,” Colorge said. “My backup option if I can’t get any pastrami tonight is Canter’s.” Rechtman’s backup was Nate ’n Al’s, another iconic L.A. deli, and one that also closed — but then reopened.
Both said the pastrami at Greenblatt’s has always been their go-to order, though Colorge swears by the matzo ball soup when he’s under the weather.
“It’s kind of the secret deli of L.A.,” Rechtman said. “If you know you know, and there’s obviously some Hollywood clout around it, but I feel like Canter’s gets all the attention and this is sort of the better one.”
The pair said they would wait until the restaurant closed for any food they might be able to purchase. Ideally, Rechtman said, he’d like to take home some of the rye bread, his favorite. Colorge had begun eyeing the turkey legs at the front of the deli case. Both noticed a few slices of cheesecake, apple pie and the like in the dessert case to the right.
At least a few of them went home with staff.
The next morning, Marks shared that Kavin is providing the staff a severance package. She said she feels he is looking out for them , and she expects she will find another serving job after Greenblatt’s. It will be hard, she imagines, for whatever’s next to compare to the experience and the regulars at the deli.
She isn’t sure how much wine remained at the end of the night, but a wine clerk told her that one customer bought roughly $2,500 of wine — everything that they could carry. Marks went home with slices of those cakes, plus a few sandwiches that had been made incorrectly and would have otherwise gone to waste: what could very well be the last taste of the West Hollywood institution.
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