"The pickles are coming back to Connecticut Avenue," said Mel Krupin, who yesterday signed an intent-to-purchase agreement with Paul Young, owner of one of Washington's famous institutions, Paul Young's Restaurant.
For 12 years, Krupin dispensed jocular insults and tables as general manager at Duke Zeibert's, an equally famous eatery a pickle's throw from Paul Young's on Connecticut Avenue. Pending final negotiations, Krupin plans to take over the restaurant in August, close for redecorating and reopen in late September.
Ever since Duke Zeibert closed in May -- after 30 years of beef in the pot and chopped liver, pickles and brown bread, jokes and camaraderie -- a mournful band of regulars have been scouting the town for another home. For the many who never found another "club," the heartache, if not the heartburn, may soon be over.
Krupin promises to be faithful to Zeibert's old menu but may add a few veal dishes. Nothing adventurous, you understand. "Listen," said Krupin, in his thick Brooklyn accent, "pioneering is not profiting."
Zeibert, who served presidents and bookies, sports and media celebrities, is now playing golf instead of cracking jokes with his customers. His restaurant, at the corner of Connecticut and L, is awaiting the wrecker's ball, to be replaced by an office and shopping complex. "This restaurant's had soul," said Zeibert at his closing, a jammed and liquid "wake" in May, "but I'm not going to make the mistake of trying to reopen the place and recapture it. You can never do it again."
Paul Young said yesterday, "I think Mel will do very well. He's got a following, a lot of nice friends. Why are we getting out of the business? Honey, next birthday I'll be 69 years old. What do I need with this forever?" Paul Young, his brother, David, and Duke Zeibert shared many a customer and were good friends over the years. Said Young, "The troops needed a new leader. I'm going to help Mel get everything organized. It's like teaching a kid to ride a two-wheeler. Once he goes on his own, we'll be out." Both Krupin and Paul Young declined to discuss the terms or finances of their agreement.
Young's opened 20 years ago and was the new "in" place in town about the time John F. Kennedy was inaugurated.Asked how many presidents had eaten there, Paul Young said "let's see, Truman -- and everybody after him." ePresident Carter dined there on his 55th birthday last year. The Young brother started with their mother, known for years to customers as Momma Young, in 1935 at the old Rumanian Inn before moving to their Connecticut Avenue location.
Krupin, who had been negotiating for several months to buy Paul Young's, sighed with relief yesterday, "I just lost my ulcer." Given to long cigars, fancy cufflinks and one-liners, Krupin is a rotund 200-plus pounds who said he sweated off 10 of it in the negotiations.
The red decor will go, but Krupin isn't saying whether he will reinstitute Zeibert's old brown and blue decor -- once described as that "bruised" look. He does plan to turn the upstairs Safari Lounge into a grill.
Krupin stressed that he is not just a glad-hander at the door. "I'm a very well-known chef," he quipped. Krupin, in fact, did study under the main chef at the Ritz Carlton in New York, Louis Diat. "He invented the chef salad and vichyssoise -- no, don't ask me how to spell it."
Krupin explained his interest in the culinary. "I was born in October, 1929. A Depression baby. I wanted to eat when I was a young boy." In a voice thick with Borscht Belt intonations, Krupin said, "I figured the only way you should get a meal was if you worked in a kitchen." Krupin attended chef school at New York City Community College, apprenticed in New York hotels and at Grossinger's in the Catskills and was hired by the Ritz Carlton when he graduated. Drafted into the Army during the Korean War, Krupin became a typical "Catch 22" victim. "Here I am, a chef and they send me to med school -- to be a doctah, already. I shipped over in the medics, but finally wound up a mess sergeant."
He wanted to be a caterer, but his wife, Gloria, "didn't want the hours, didn't want to be a weekend widow." Instead, Krupin went into the wholesale meat business, supplying restaurants and caterers, before leaving New York to join Zeibert.
And what will Paul Young's be called after all these years? Krupin has it all figured out. "Mel Krupin's. It has a nice simple ring."