Book shares collected tales of longtime neighborhood deli

| January 1, 2020 | 0 Comments

CANTER BROS. Delicatessen first opened in 1931 in Boyle Heights on what is now Cesar Chavez Boulevard. It moved to its current location on Fairfax Ave. approximately 20 years later and became Canter’s Fairfax.

In 1931, Benjamin, Joseph and Ruben Canter came to Los Angeles and opened Canter Bros. Delicatessen on what is now Cesar Chavez Boulevard in Boyle Heights, which was then home to a large Jewish population. Over time, however, the neighborhood changed. About 20 years later, the delicatessen migrated to Fairfax Avenue, which was quickly becoming a bustling Jewish community. The deli was renamed Canter’s Fairfax and became a restaurant, bakery, delicatessen and later bar (mustn’t forget The Kibitz Room).

The rest is a piece of Los Angeles history that fourth-generation offspring Alex and Gina Canter have shared in their recently published book “Stories on Rye” about the Los Angeles landmark and family business that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and only closed on Jewish holidays. Apocryphal stories are often told of Hollywood stars and musicians seen at the bar or in the deli. “Stories on Rye” introduces a deeper level to tales of the restaurant.

The book has more than 80 years of collected memories that customers, employees and family members have shared with the Canter siblings. Gina Canter said they came up with the idea because often when introducing themselves, people would recognize the “Canter” name, and almost always have a story to share about the restaurant, typically starting with the words, “this one time…” So, a few years ago, the siblings decided to bring all these personal stories together.

SIBLINGS Alex and Gina Canter, the fourth generation in the Canter family business, produced the book together.

Gina and Alex had put in their time, along with the rest of the family, waiting tables and working at the restaurant, and they were familiar with their customers and how to reach out to them. To get the stories they were looking for, they developed a two-pronged approach: putting a call out on the deli’s website and also leaving note cards at each table for patrons to fill out.

The stories began pouring in, from meeting future spouses, to awkward family meals, mourning over loved ones, to late-night snacks, all taking place beneath the autumn leaf ceiling.

Over the course of the three years it took to complete the book, Gina said she and her brother Alex would read some of the stories to their grandfather, Alan Canter, who passed away last January. It was a way to share the restaurant and their lives with their grandfather and become closer, she continued.

The cloth-and-hard back book, besides containing a sampling of Los Angeles history and four original recipes (the restaurant still offers some of the same dishes that appeared on the original 1931 menu), also has illustrations by Gina Canter. She studied art and design at the University of Michigan and has worked at local contemporary art galleries.

Alex Canter, co-founder of the restaurant online ordering system Ordermark, brought his technological expertise and years of experience in his family’s deli to the project. He was on the 2019 “Forbes” magazine “30 under 30” list.

Check out the book on Amazon or visit

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