The man, the myth, the Deli Lama Izzy Freeman seated in one of his 40-year-old restaurant's plush booths. The walls of Izzy's Deli are covered by photos of celebrities who call Freeman a friend, helping his eatery earn the title 'Deli to the Stars.' (Photos by Michael Ryan)

The man, the myth, the Deli Lama Izzy Freeman seated in one of his 40-year-old restaurant’s plush booths. The walls of Izzy’s Deli are covered by photos of celebrities who call Freeman a friend, helping his eatery earn the title ‘Deli to the Stars.’ (Photos by Michael Ryan)

Just under 3 million corned beefs on rye, 6,386,129 pickles and 4,635,512 matzo balls. These are the calculations Izzy’s Deli approximated by taking their weekly sales, multiplying it into years and multiplying that by 40, the number of years the Santa Monica staple has been open come Aug. 20. The figures aren’t exact, but it’s a fair assessment and a true testament of how beloved Izzy’s is to the city by the sea.

Izzy’s, The Bagel Nosh, Fromin’s and NY Bagel & Deli, all just a couple of blocks apart from each other, make up Santa Monica’s “Pastrami Corridor” spanning from 14th to 22nd Street on Wilshire Boulevard. Izzy’s was first though, and 40 years of business is an eternity when you think about the average life expectancy of a restaurant here in the L.A. area. A hot new restaurant opening in Santa Monica always makes for a good headline. However, the fact that Izzy’s has been open for the same amount of time Moses was wandering around in the desert is news worthy as well.

When you walk into Izzy’s and see the display case full of cured meats, knishes, gefilte fish and lox spreads you know it’s a legit Kosher-style deli. Viewing the celebrity filled wall of fame and finding pictures of prominent Jewish funny men like Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld further validates Izzy’s as a true Santa Monica institution. It’s also why it’s often referred to as the “Deli to the Stars.”

Izzy Freeman, the sole proprietor of Izzy’s, recognizes old-school delis are threatened by trendier hot spots, but sees his place as a neighborhood mainstay, a place for families, friends and co-workers to relax and get full on quality food — and always with friendly service by folks who have worked there for years.

You can't visit a traditional Kosher deli without having the pastrami on rye.

You can’t visit a traditional Kosher deli without having the pastrami on rye.

“People like this kind of food,” Izzy told me over lunch. (I had the pastrami sandwich, Izzy went with a bowl of lentil soup.) “It’s comfort food. We all like fancy places. We all like the fancy restaurants of the world, but sometimes it’s nice to get a simple pastrami or tuna melt.”

“The Deli Lama,” a moniker bestowed upon him by some of his golfing buddies, Izzy has blessed Santa Monica with his take on traditional deli fare. And anyone who has recently visited any upstanding deli knows that a premium pastrami sandwich is not a cheap lunch.

“One thing I learned about being in the restaurant business for so long is to always raise your prices, never cut your quality, or portions,” he said. “People are willing to pay a few cents more if they know it is going to be good.”

Nowadays (especially in Santa Monica), when you eat out it’s not going to be easy on the wallet. It is on a rare occasion where I actually think I didn’t overpay. At this point though I’ve eaten out so much that I have been numbed to the gouging. Izzy’s, on the other hand, is a place where you get what you pay for and a little more, especially when compared to other delis of the same caliber.

Aside from all the standards, Izzy’s has a few surprises as well. During Thanksgiving they sell around 100 cooked turkeys to the public, as well as a full turkey dinner in the restaurant. They are open 24/7 (which is becoming more rare in Santa Monica with the loss of Norm’s last month) and in 40 years they have never closed, aside from when “Curb Your Enthusiasm” filmed a few episodes there. And as I discovered they have one of the best cake and pie selections in town.

Izzy’s shouldn’t be overlooked or taken for granted because it has been in Santa Monica seemingly forever. They give to charities; employ families, some now for two generations; and have a passionate owner who has become a local institution in his own right. Maybe some day they will change Wilshire Boulevard to Izzy Way, 15th Street at the least. Regardless of the future, 40 years is a benchmark everyone involved with Izzy’s should be proud of. If you have never been to Izzy’s, give it a visit and see what a great deli is all about.

 

Michael can be seen riding around town on his bike burning calories so he can eat more food. He can be reached at michael@smdp.com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/greaseweek

Print Friendly