January 27, 2020

Canter’s Deli Shares Stories and Sandwiches in New Book ‘Stories on Rye’

Naomi Goldman and her mother Faith Goldman. Photo courtesy of Faith Goldman

For many Angelenos, the family-run Canter’s Deli is an extension of their own families: Matzo ball soup recalling childhood, deli sandwiches after late-night Dodgers games and tempting delectable desserts tempting from the bakery case. 

The iconic deli has witnessed romances, lifecycle celebrations and dreams of greatness since 1948, when it moved to Fairfax Avenue from its original Boyle Heights location. And on Aug. 3, dozens of people gathered in the deli’s back room to celebrate the release of “Stories on Rye: A Collection of Memories Shared at Canter’s Deli Since 1931.” The book was edited by Gina and Alex Canter (and illustrated by Gina) — fourth-generation family members of the legacy begun by their great-grandfather.

“Every time anyone ever finds out our last name is Canter or that we’re associated with this restaurant, they feel obligated to tell us their stories, their memories,” Alex Canter said at the event. “We realized that the story and history of Canter’s Deli extended beyond just our family and touched a lot of people’s experiences in Los Angeles.”

The Canters collected more than 5,000 memories for the book. Most writers are credited only by first name. There are a number of reflections by and about celebrities. Prince’s first manager wrote about introducing The Purple One to his first corned beef sandwich. Rami Jaffee, keyboardist for the Foo Fighters, talked about visiting Canter’s during his time at Fairfax High School and as a fledgling keyboardist. Guns N’Roses guitarist Slash met up with his parents at Canter’s after getting kicked out of the Fairfax Theater. Belinda Carlisle from The Go-Go’s spent many late nights at Canter’s with a kasha knish or a corned beef on rye. Johnny Depp, Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette, Rodney Dangerfield, Christian Slater and celebrity guest stars pop into some of the collected stories. But the real spotlight belongs to the non-celebrities who share their Canter’s stories in the book.

“Baked apples and Dr. Brown’s soda calmed my nerves and gave me the start of 20 years of research.” — Faith Goldman

For Faith Goldman of Torrance, Canter’s was the setting for several special events. In an attempt to finish her late husband Bob’s memoirs about being born and raised in Shanghai, Goldman interviewed others who had lived there at the same time. One interview subject suggested they meet at Canter’s.

“Baked apples and Dr. Brown’s soda calmed my nerves and gave me the start of 20 years of research, interviews and finally a trip to Shanghai to walk in Robert’s shoes,” Goldman said. 

A year after her husband died, Goldman went to a Jewish singles dance and met Harry Fischman. Their first meal together was at Canter’s. When her kids wanted to meet Fischman, the group went to Canter’s, where Goldman’s son Sam grilled Fischman about his life and intentions toward his mother. 

“I guess he passed the interview, as we were together for 20 years,” Goldman said. When Fischman died in 2015, Goldman and her children celebrated his life at Canter’s. “Coming back to Canter’s today was cathartic and sad at the same time,” she said. 

Even as the event celebrated Canter’s famous food, there was an acknowledgment that in the United States — and even on the stretch of Fairfax where Canter’s sits — many people still struggle with hunger. 

“The United States is one of the wealthiest nations in the world and yet we have over 40 million people who do not know where their next meal is coming from,” said Abby Leibman, president and CEO of MAZON: The Jewish Response to Hunger, speaking to the event’s attendees. A portion of book and T-shirt sales from the event are being donated to MAZON. 

“You guys are all of our favorite stories,” Alex Canter said. “Thank you all for submitting the stories and being a part of this experience with us.”