A flip of the coin brought Marvin “Junior” Saul to Los Angeles before he opened Junior’s Deli and became known as the “Mayor of Westwood.”
He died on Dec. 8 of a heart attack at 82 while at his home in Encino.
The deli owner was born in Atlantic City 1928. He fought in the Korean War and then tried mining uranium on his return. When that didn’t yield much financial returns, he and a friend debated on moving to Los Angeles or Texas. They decided on LA based on a flip of a coin.
He had 35 cents in his pocket when he went to work at Canter’s Deli, his son Jon Saul said. After opening his own small sandwich shop that only lasted a couple of years, he opened Junior’s Deli on Pico in 1959. The restaurant moved to its current location on Westwood Boulevard in 1967.
At the restaurant he cultivated an atmosphere where the staff was a family –even co-signing some of their loans, Jon said. Junior’s former block chef, Bill Lowder, was a black man who grew up in Georgia, and he told Jon that Saul was the first white man who ever spoke to him like a regular person, not a black person.
“That’s how Dad raised us,” Jon said. “There is no color, no race, no religion like the Bible says, and you treat them that way. That was Dad’s forte. When he talked to a person and he looked at you, you were the only person on Earth he was talking to and you felt that way.”
Saul was dedicated to the restaurant and when he wasn’t at work, he would call in every hour to check in – even when he was on vacation and that meant tracking down a pay phone. He continued to come to work every day even as an 82-year-old man on 24-hour oxygen, his son said. He was often seen schmoozing with customers and making sure they felt welcome.
“He took care of his employees like gold and made me and my brother (David) work for everything. We resented it at the time, but he did it all right,” Jon said.
David and Jon now run Junior's, but Saul didn’t allow them any shortcuts. They worked through every aspect of the business from dishwasher and busboy to cashier.
“My father used to say, ‘How can you tell someone to do something if you don’t know how to do it right yourself?’” Jon said. He said his father never had anything handed to him and it was important to him to teach his children to earn things.
While the restaurant was a central part of his life, Jon said family was even more important to him.
Most of his extended family died in the Holocaust, and Saul was determined to instill strong family values in his children. Saul met his wife Bette on a blind date in 1958. They were married a year later and Jon remembers Saul frequently bringing home surprise bouquets.
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