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Wednesday, Dec 6, 2023

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Harold Ginsburg’s parents opened Art’s Deli in 1957, four years before he was born, on a stretch of Ventura Boulevard near Laurel Canyon Boulevard. He can still remember as a child when the deli was across the street from a dirt lot that is long gone. Since then, he has witnessed the neighborhood become a hip shopping and nightlife destination with trendy bars, nightclubs and corporate retailers. But for all that time Art’s has remained a constant, except in 1994 when it closed for nine months after a power surge caused by the Northridge earthquake sparked a fire that destroyed the restaurant. After a $2 million reconstruction, Art’s returned. The day the deli reopened, Ginsburg said there was a line of people stretching around the block at 5:30 a.m. In the early days, Art’s was a place where Studio City residents ranging from the young families living nearby to the production crews from CBS Radford Studios would meet for its best-selling pastrami and corned beef sandwiches. The popularity of those dishes hasn’t changed. Three years ago, Ginsburg’s 78-year-old father, Art, for whom the deli is named, handed the business over to his son. Ginsburg said he hopes his tenure will be just as long. Question: What was Studio City like when you were growing up? Answer: Studio City is about the same as it was in the ’60s as far as the atmosphere, as far as family life and as far as activity. When I was growing up here, all the homes in Laurel Wood and Laurel Hills at the top of Mulholland were being built. All the young families were moving in. They were raising kids and brought them down to Ventura Boulevard to eat and do their shopping. That part hasn’t changed at all. What has changed? When I was growing up, across the street there was a dirt lot where the bank is. Where Staples is down the street, there was a miniature golf place. So what’s happened is that there’s a lot less mom-and-pop stores. As they have retired or moved on or decided it wasn’t working out, a lot of corporate stores have moved in. Is that a good thing? That’s good and bad. It takes a little away from the homey neighborhood feel and makes it feel like a mall. But if those stores are run correctly, they’ll still retain that feel where people feel comfortable shopping. What was the clientele like in the early days? Were there a lot of Hollywood people around? Oh yeah. My mom told me a story just the other day that Mickey Rooney was one of her first catering customers. Through the years, stories come up. We have a group of guys here every Thursday called The Romeos, Retired Old Men Eating Out. One of the gentlemen is 94, his name is Abby Singer. He was very involved with MTM productions. So one night, Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood” and “Boogie Nights”), an Academy Award-winning filmmaker who grew up in Studio City, was here and I told him one of the old guys in the back was Abby Singer. He almost fell over. Here is this 94-year-old man talking to this up-and-coming filmmaker. Watching the two of them connect was just amazing. Are there any other stories like that?There’s a story floating around that Phil Rosenthal and Ray Romano created the idea for “Everybody Loves Raymond” here on a napkin. Is it still that way today?Yes. Without giving away names, we cater to all the studio heads and their families. Not only do we have the people in front of the camera, we also have the power people behind the camera. We have a lot of power lunches here. You’ll see on any given weekday, people look around to see who’s here to shake hands and make their presence known. That hasn’t changed. How has Art’s Deli changed? A Jewish deli is a Jewish deli. But we’ve changed our menu as our clientele has changed. When my parents started out, salads were an afterthought. In L.A. and California, salads are very popular. We’re here to serve our customers’ needs and want to give them a variety of meals besides the traditional deli items. How has the city changed in terms of restaurants? There’s a lot of restaurant ethnic diversity now. Before the ethnic restaurant explosion, it was just deli food and American food. Now, diners have the choice from all the burger and beer places, sushi, Italian and more. It’s much more varied. Are the new concepts competition? Yes and no. All the places that are opening spark people to drive through the neighborhood. Yes, it’s competition because I have another person that adds more restaurant seats in the area. But on the flip side, it promotes more traffic into the neighborhood. So with all this changing, is a pastrami or corned beef sandwich on rye bread still the best seller? (Grins and nods) Oh yeah. So how do you make the corned beef? We get it in from RC Provision in Burbank. They do the curing process. They take the raw brisket, trim it, brine it and cure it. It comes to us in holding brine and then we boil it. We add some secret seasoning to it while it’s boiling and then we chill it. As we need it for service, we put it in a meat steamer and slice it. What is made entirely in house? We make our brisket of beef and roast beef. We roast those here. We also make our own salad items like coleslaw and potato salad. In addition, all of our soups are made from scratch and without bases – just water, vegetables and seasoning. It’s an eight-hour process to make the chicken soup from start to finish. It’s a lot of labor and a lot of love to make our chicken soup. How has business been since the recession? Business was down from 2008. The turning point seemed to be July 1, 2008. That’s when things lost steam. Everyone seemed to cut back. I have some customers that are pretty wealthy, but even they cut back. But I have noticed since the fourth quarter of last year, there seems to be a little more optimism. People are coming out more and starting to spend more. There’s more foot traffic here on Ventura Boulevard. One of the big changes has to be your dad giving you the business. When did he retire? He didn’t formally retire, but he’s cut back on his workload substantially in the last three to four years. But my mom, his partner and co-founder, still works here with me. Do you have any plans for the business now that you’re in charge? I just make sure everything is up to standard. I think as far as changing – no. Would you walk into an Italian restaurant and complain that they’re serving pasta? We’re a Jewish deli and we’re going to specialize in those things and keep our menu in that market. You took over the business from your father. Do either of your children plan on taking over for you one day? My kids are 10 and eight so I really don’t know. We’re raising our kids to be great independent kids. Hopefully one of them will want to come into the business. But we’ll see. When you were that age, did you want to run the deli? I always wanted to be involved with and take over the family business. The father of one of my elementary school friends – I went to Dixie Canyon – loves telling me the story of our elementary school graduation. For the graduation ceremony, we were all asked to approach the microphone and tell the audience what we want to be when we grow up. My classmates said things ranging from being a doctor to being a photographer.  And I got up and said, “I want to run my father’s deli.” My friend’s father tells me that the audience gave me a standing ovation. I received the only standing ovation of the morning.

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