They opened their doors in 1967, operating as a family owned, New York-style Jewish deli striving to maintain its quality menu of beef on rye, matzo ball soup, bagels and lox, and other staples.
Fifty years later, Benjies Deli off Tustin Avenue in Santa Ana is celebrating its golden anniversary.
“It survived because it’s Benjies,” said owner Lloyd Weinstein, 70, standing inside the restaurant. “It’s unique, and it’s been successful for what it is.”
Lloyd Weinstein’s father, Stan, grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. While serving in the Army as a radio and communications specialist during World War II, he married Eleanor in 1946.
With their first child, Lloyd, the new family moved to Los Angeles in the late 1940s seeking opportunities. Stan desired to open his own business and purchased Richies Drive In Restaurant in Garden Grove. A young Lloyd helped in the kitchen, making meals delivered by rollerskating carhops.
The family outgrew the concept and set forth on building a full-service diner, later known as Cookies Family Restaurant, but Stan’s roots tugged at him, motivating him to open the New York delicatessen he had dreamed of operating for years.
With two business partners, Stan purchased a Squires Coffee Shop in 1967, remodeled it and renamed it Benjies.
Since its opening on Oct. 8, 1967, Benjies has served customers who have frequented the restaurant from the start, along with well-known diners like actor Chuck Norris, author Dean Koontz and professional wrestler Steve Austin.
Eleanor Weinstein died over 20 years ago, followed five years later by Stan. Today, Lloyd Weinstein operates the restaurant with his wife of 42 years, Noriko, and staffers who have worked at the restaurant for 15 to 30 years.
Since its 40th anniversary, Lloyd Weinstein redecorated the restaurant with new upholstered seating, chairs, carpeting and exterior rust-colored awnings, but much of the design remains the same because diners appreciate the restaurant’s originality.
Its outdoor sign and marquee have stood since Benjies’ opening and continue to alert drivers to what’s happening and what’s cooking at the restaurant, he added.
Last year, he partitioned off a section of the restaurant for Avenue K Bar, where customers can try craft beers or food from the longstanding menu’s options that include Reuben fritters and pastrami sandwiches.
The bar was named as a tribute to the brownstone in Brooklyn where Stan Weinstein grew up.
Two things remain constant, Lloyd Weinstein said.
St. Patrick’s Day is the busiest weekend of the year — people love the corned beef — and he’s never removing the diner’s five-decades-old pendant lighting.
“They’re tacky,” he said with a laugh, “but people love them.”
Benjies is at 1828 N. Tustin Ave., Santa Ana. For more information, call (714) 541-6263 or visit benjiesdeli.com.