Treasured Loeb's Perfect N.Y. Deli in District Set to Celebrate 50th Anniversary

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Marlene Loeb has been fired from her job several times.

In each case, she'd say "Fine!," flip her slightly teased raven hair, storm out the door and stew the whole way home.

Then the other boss would call and ask her to come back. And she always did.

Now Marlene runs the place, alongside her two brothers.

"We all got fired. It was always Mom who fired us," said Marlene's younger brother, Steve, 34, who works the counter at Loeb's Perfect New York Deli Restaurant in downtown Washington.

"And it was always Dad who called us and asked us to come back," added her older brother, David, 44, who is head cashier at the deli, a longtime favorite noshery of lawyers and lobbyists, salesmen and senators, journalists and journeymen plumbers, office secretaries and Cabinet secretaries.

Next week, the deli turns 50 years old.

Over those five decades, the Loeb children bickered, kvetched and grew up amid stacks of corned beef and pastrami, between bowls of matzoh ball soup and trays of knishes. They scowled through summer work shifts, defied their parents, moved out and went away to college. But eventually, they came back.

"It just keeps us going, every day, keeping the place alive for them," Marlene, 42, said.

Walter Loeb was 9 years old when he and his mother left Nazi Germany in 1939 and joined his father in America. After a brief stint in the Army, he worked for his family's kosher bakery in Takoma Park.

A big, warm and effusive man, he had too much personality to spend days alone with cakes and pies. He was looking for a woman to help him live out his dreams. At the Jewish Community Center in Washington, he found her -- a German woman named Sigrid who had fled the Holocaust on a boat alone, the only survivor of her family of 11. They married in 1958 and opened the deli the next year, on 15th Street across from the Treasury Department.

"At lunchtime, the place was like a party," remembered Dottie Santelmann, a D.C. office worker who hopped from the counter to the booths, socializing amid the lunch crowd for 30 years. "People used to pack it in, and you knew everyone there. And there was always Walter's good food."

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