Lillian R. Wagshal, 90, who with her husband operated Wagshal's deli, one of Washington's oldest family-owned delicatessens, died of cancer Oct. 3 at her home in Washington.
Mrs. Wagshal began working at Wagshal's Delicatessen and Liquors in Spring Valley in 1950. She worked with her husband and sister-in-law in the popular establishment, which opened on Massachusetts Avenue NW in 1939. The Wagshals retired and sold the small, profitable deli in 1990.
Wagshal's sold tons of corned beef, smoked salmon and baklava to an array of customers -- presidential families from the Kennedys to the Bushes, secretaries to senators, neighborhood kids to ambassadors. Mrs. Wagshal greeted customers from behind the counter as she took orders.
"We're not just selling food, you see, it is a labor of love," she told a Washington Post reporter in 1990.
Mrs. Wagshal, a native of Lawrence, Mass., graduated from Salem Teachers College in Massachusetts.
After graduation, she moved to Washington and worked briefly for the federal government. She followed up on a request from a relative to look up and give regards to the Wagshal family. Doing so, she met, and later married, Benjamin Wagshal, who was also born in Lawrence.
Mrs. Wagshal was a homemaker before joining the family business. Her father-in-law, Sam Wagshal, opened the original deli in 1925 and later moved it to the Spring Valley location.
"It was a traditional mom-and-pop store," said her son Marc Wagshal of Rockville. "She enjoyed interacting with the customers. When my parents sold the business, one of the customers gave them a party with 100 customers. It was that type of relationship."
A Washington Post article described the Wagshals as "probably the only sandwich makers who have been to the White House numerous times."
After retiring, Mrs. Wagshal enjoyed spending time in their apartment in Ocean City.
She was a member of the sisterhood of B'Nai Israel Congregation in Rockville.
A son, Eric Wagshal, died in 1999.
In addition to her son and her husband of 65 years, survivors include another son, Alan Wagshal of Israel; a sister; 10 grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.