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CALIFORNIA

It's a pastrami party!

Langer's Deli in L.A. marks its 65th anniversary by giving away No. 19s, its most popular sandwich

June 16, 2012|Bob Pool

I'll take a pastrami on rye, with coleslaw, Swiss cheese, Russian-style dressing and mustard.

Oh, and hold the check, please.

That's the order some 2,000 people placed Friday at Langer's Deli as the eatery marked its 65th anniversary by giving away free pastrami sandwiches to all comers.

City officials closed 7th Street in front of the MacArthur Park-area landmark as crowds lined up for what is known as the deli's No.19, its most popular sandwich.

Normally, the sandwich sells for $15.20.

The sandwich giveaway, which continues through 9 p.m. Saturday, is being accompanied by hourly $100 gift certificate drawings for those diners who take Metro buses or the Red Line subway to the corner of 7th and Alvarado streets.

Deli owner Norm Langer credits the subway with saving the restaurant from closure in the early 1990s, when customers viewed the area as rife with drug dealing and aggressive panhandlers. Business rebounded when the Red Line opened in 1993 and downtown office workers began hopping on the subway for a Langer's lunch.

"Had it not been for the Metro Red Line, I'd probably have closed. The subway was the light at the end of the tunnel," Langer has acknowledged.

Langer's late father, Al Langer, opened the restaurant June 17, 1947. He died at age 94 a week after the deli's 60th anniversary.

The 135-seat deli was jammed throughout the day Friday. Langer said he stocked enough pastrami for about 8,000 No. 19 sandwiches. He estimated that over its 65 years, the deli has served 4 million pounds of the brined and seasoned beef.

The pastrami was tasty enough for Sarah Jones to give up being a vegetarian for the day.

"I don't eat red meat. I haven't for six years," the 25-year-old Anaheim makeup artist said as she nibbled on her No. 19. "But this is definitely worth eating."

Many in Friday's crowd were deli regulars like Valerie Steverson, a retired letter carrier from Valencia.

"I was here for lunch on Monday," she said. "My dad used to bring us here for family outings when I was a kid."

Nearby, Cardell Turner paused over his pastrami sandwich to acknowledge that he has eaten at Langer's all of his life.

"My grandfather, Alfonso Thompson, worked here for 36 years. He started as a dishwasher and worked his way up to master chef. He helped raise Norm. I grew up eating this food," said Turner, a retired 64-year-old Los Angeles truck driver.

For others, it was their first taste of Langer's pastrami.

"I'm a picky eater, but I will say this is good," said Shaniqua Bedford, a Los Angeles cosmetologist who was making her first visit.

Thirteen waiters and waitresses served the crowd, aided by eight busboys, nine hostesses and 10 kitchen workers. Among them was cook Flabiano Naranjo, who has worked at Langer's for 42 years, and head dishwasher Acension Barajas, a 45-year employee.

On the sidewalk out front, Harris Berger edged closer to the deli's front door after standing in line about an hour.

"That's not a long time to wait for the food you get here," the Encino accountant said. "I've been coming here 55 years for this food."

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bob.pool@latimes.com

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