By Blake Atwell
Daily Press Intern

One Monday morning inside Fromin’s Restaurant & Delicatessen, a 41-year Wilshire Boulevard staple, general manager Bruce Stein assists an elderly gentleman at the register. The gentleman turns to Stein and says, “I’m here all the time and this place is the best oiled machine I’ve ever seen.”

Stein jokingly responds, “I appreciate the fact that you can’t see past that.”

Since 1978, the West Los Angeles landmark’s been projecting feelings of glee to generations of customers while serving deli and comfort food from a menu of over 350 items. Fromin’s prides themselves on acknowledging and getting to know their customers in a comfortable, homey environment. The restaurant celebrated its 40-year anniversary last December.

Dennis Fromin, the man who started it all, is a fourth-generation deliman from Cleveland who moved to Southern California with his family in the 1960s. Fromin, 77, began peeling potatoes in his father’s Encino deli at age eight. As soon as he could think, all Fromin saw was restaurant and deli.

“Everybody says the restaurant business is the hardest business there is,” said Fromin. “And I agree with that. But I also didn’t realize it until I was 60-years-old.”

His father worked seven days a week for eight years straight without taking one day off. If Fromin wanted to be around him, he had to go to the restaurant. Being the kid he was, Fromin wouldn’t sit around. He’d strap on an apron and get to work.

“I thought it was great when I got over washing pots and pans and they let me peel potatoes,” he said. “I thought I was moving up in society.”

He received his first paycheck at age 15, working weekends at his father’s deli and running a morning paper route seven days a week. In 1974, Fromin opened “The Sports Deli” in Century City and achieved immediate success. His experiences in Encino and Century City motivated him to look for a restaurant space on Los Angeles’ far west side.

Fromin browsed locations for five years before meeting a landlord on Wilshire Boulevard and securing what would become Fromin’s, Santa Monica. Shortly thereafter, he opened another Fromin’s in Encino. In the 1980s, he opened two more delicatessens in Rancho Mirage and Simi Valley.

Operating five concurrent locations pushed Fromin to the limit. With his health in jeopardy, he sold four of the five delis. Fromin closed the Encino location in 2004, but kept Santa Monica.  Fromin’s always held admiration for the city’s diversity.

“You’re kind of in the middle of a hotbed of business, which is why we’re here after 41 years,” he said. “It’s a neighborhood that always gets better and continues to do so.”

When asked if he envisioned the Santa Monica location lasting this long, Fromin giggled out an enthusiastic yes. He started in the business world at age 21 and knew Wilshire Boulevard would be a great location.

“I don’t mean that to sound cocky,” he said. “I’ve done many things in my life that haven’t worked out, but it would be hard to screw this place up.”

While Santa Monica has its advantages, Fromin acknowledges its “tough” business climate. New city legislation enforcing plastic restrictions have brought frustrations to his small business. For instance, Fromin’s can no longer legally use plastic straws, while fast food chains are still allowed to.

“It’s falling on us which is a small percentage and we’re glad to do it,” he said. “But it comes at a great expense.”

Both Fromin and Stein, his son-in-law, would like more discussion before implementation.

“Not that we’re against it,” said Fromin. “We just don’t like the way it’s being done. To me, if you’re going to change from plastic to paper, make it 100 percent, everybody.”

Stein credits the restaurant’s ability to withstand these challenges to the community of loyal customers Fromin’s has built. On any given day, the restaurant is complete with tables full of guests who visit on a near daily basis.

“That’s what keeps us going,” said Stein.

Fromin’s employs more than 40 people, many of whom have over 20 years under their belts at the restaurant. On average, most restaurants turnover between 80 to 90 employees per year. In 2018, Fromin’s lost just three.

“You have to explain to your help that everybody in the world has problems,” said Fromin. “But when people go out to eat, they aren’t just going out to eat.”

The restaurant views food as subjective. Fromin believes if people are simply trying to eat, they’ll microwave a meal from home. What the restaurant attempts to get customers out of the house for is comfort above all else, with the food, staff and environment.

“Are we always perfect? not even close,” said Fromin. “But we’re consistently pretty good.”

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