Canter regular across the counter turns 80

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George K. has worked at Canter’s Deli since 1964. (photo by Rance Collins)

George K. has worked at Canter’s Deli for nearly 59 years. On August 29, he turned 80. Originally from Greece, his family immigrated to Canada. George came to Los Angeles in March 1964. A friend convinced George to move to Los Angeles with him, and it was only days into his new life in Los Angeles that he began working at Canter’s .

“[Alan Canter, then-owner] said, ‘Can you do that?’ I said, ‘Let me show you what I can do, and we’ll go from there. If it’s not to your liking, let me know. No hard feelings,” George recalled.

It was to their liking. George quickly became one of the restaurant’s most popular employees. He even met his late wife Virginia at the deli.

“One of his roommates was working at the counter,” George said. “[Virginia said], ‘I am looking for a job.’ I said, ‘Have you ever worked in a restaurant?’ She said, ‘No.’ But I could feel she could do anything… I said, ‘Don’t worry about anything. In a year, you’ll be the top gun here. I wasn’t wrong.

At the time, Virginia had a one-year-old son. By the late 1960s, the couple were married and ran the restaurant, with George running the deli counter and Virginia in charge of the dining room.

“While we were working together, we never argued – at the store. Outside it’s a different story, male and female,” George chuckled.

For many years, George worked night shifts at the 24-hour restaurant, but as his family life became more important, the Canters moved him to day shifts. Even now, working part-time, Canter’s continues to be his home base.

“He’s the hardest working guy I know,” said Jacqueline Canter, whose family owns and operates the restaurant. “Even at 80, the guy can outperform the 25-year-olds who are working with him right now. It can serve three customers at a time. You’ve never seen someone who works harder, who is more dedicated to Canter, and we treat him like family.

Canter, who has known George virtually his entire life, said he attended his wedding and also helped screen his dates before that.

“When I was 18, I had a date, [and if] he didn’t like the way the date looked, he would kick the guy out. He treated me like I was a daughter to him,” Canter said.

George said the Canter family thought so highly of him that when his mother died, several family members came to his home and stayed with him for a week to help him through the grieving process.

Over the years George has become a local favorite.

“He treats Canter like it’s his restaurant,” Canter said. “[For him]it’s not just a job, it’s a career [and] It’s a way of life.” Every day, Canter continues, customers come into the store and specifically ask for George.

“A lot of people come in [and ask], ‘Is George still there?’ Lots of people,” George said. “There’s an older lady who comes in and says, ‘When I see you, I feel good.'”

George is so intrigued by the community that in 2019, James Corden and Eddie Redmayne surprised him with a singing telegram for his 77th birthday, which aired on “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” which is taped at Television City.

“A lot of celebrities, they’re nice people,” George said, noting that the restaurant’s proximity to Television City on Beverly Boulevard leads to many visits from TV and movie stars.

During his tenure, George saw many, including Jerry Lewis, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Sonny Bono and Cher.

“We’re open 24/7, where else are they going to go in the middle of the night?” he said.

George said Canter’s is the heart of the Fairfax district.

“If there were no Canter’s, there would be no Fairfax,” he said. Canter’s has been in Los Angeles since 1931 and has been in its current location since 1953. In the restaurant’s 69-year history at this location, George has been part of all but 11 years.

“I feel better when I’m here,” George concluded, adding that he plans to continue working at Canter for as long as he can.

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