Salvador Lopez, a waiter at Langer’s, has the routine down pat. After a hectic lunch shift serving sandwiches on rye at the pastrami mecca next to MacArthur Park, he negotiates a series of surface streets—up Normandie, across Beverly—to make his way into the Fairfax district.
He beelines into the locker room of another renowned Jewish deli, shedding the signature Langer’s bow tie for a tight-fitting black T-shirt that reads: I ♥ Canter’s.
Lopez is not a delicatessen double agent, funneling trade secrets on Russian dressing and blintzes. The 29-year-old is one of several waiters who openly works at two of the delis that compete for the title of Los Angeles’ best.
The delis’ unique shared employee pool speaks to the changing demographics of their neighborhoods. Langer’s, surrounded by drug dealers and vendors selling fake IDs, is open for lunch only. Canter’s, in a once-sleepy neighborhood now home to cafes and clubs, draws a younger crowd well into the wee hours.
Sharing workers makes sense, the deli owners say, because top talent is rare. A good waiter who understands the makings of a mean Reuben is hard to find.
“It has nothing to do at all with Canter’s and I getting along,” said Norm Langer, who took over running the deli from his late father. “It requires manual dexterity. It requires caring. It requires knowledge. Every sandwich is its own work of art.”