Mel Krupin on building his first restaurant –
“The funny thing is, he says to me, ‘They’re beveled mirrors.’ I came home to my wife and I said, ‘What’s a beveled mirror?’ She said, ‘It’s a mirror that . . .The edge, they’ve got a little thing on the edge.’ I thought ‘a mirror’s a mirror. I shave every morning. I don’t see no edge.’ Anyway, we built the restaurant.”
A Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen and this is Our Town. We have a delightful guest today, a man who is so respected in the city of Washington. I wish he still had his own joint. Mel, you don’t mind me saying
that. Mel Krupin is a relic from a time when what made a restaurant big in D.C. wasn’t its celebrity chef or its food; it was the big man who ran the joint, “The Tummler”, who knew where to see Caspar Weinberger or Jack Kent Cooke or Mo Siegel or who else and he could kibitz with the customers. Tummler, a person who makes things happen. That’s our Mel Krupin. Welcome to Our Town, Mel.
Mel Krupin: Thank you, Andy. Nice to be here.
A Ockershausen: How did you end up in Our Town? We’re so delighted that you did. You’re from Brooklyn, New York.
Mel Krupin: I’m born in Brooklyn, New York in 1929. I’m a Depression baby.
A Ockershausen: So am I.
Mel Krupin: I was born on October 14th and I think Depression started on the 19th or the 20th of the month.
A Ockershausen: You didn’t bring the Depression with you, though.
Mel Krupin: No, no, I came in 1968.
A Ockershausen: Why Washington? Why would you pick Washington?
Mel Krupin meets Duke Zeibert
Mel Krupin: At that time, I was in the meat business and there was a fellow that I was working with who played the cards with Duke’s partner, who was Max Siskind.
A Ockershausen: Duke Zeibert?
Mel Krupin: Duke Zeibert. He was a partner in the Duke Zeibert’s restaurant. In the early years, Duke was working at Fran & Bill’s and five fellows used to come into Fran & Bill’s and play cards in the afternoon and one of them was Max Siskind. He was a lawyer for the Democratic National Committee. He was a counsel. In New York, he opened up a stationary store, which today would be Staples. In other words, if you called up, you need pencils and pads, they would deliver. He was on 41st Street and Lexington Avenue.
A Ockershausen: In Midtown?
Mel Krupin: In Midtown. Mac Radman was a friend of mine and he said, “I have a friend who’s looking for a manager for a restaurant that he’s a partner in in Washington D.C. Would you like to go and work there?” I said, “I would love to go to work there but I don’t think my wife would let me because I don’t think she’s going to leave her family and the kids in school and we should move to Washington,” but then I heard the name of the restaurant and I said, “Oh, we ate there in 1966.” Then I waited a year and he came back to me. He made the same offer. I said, “You know, let me go try it and see.” I met with Max Siskind. We had a long talk and he liked me and he said it would be good for me to go to Washington. He said, “But you’ve got to go and meet Duke Zeibert.” I said, “Okay. Now, how do I get to meet Duke Zeibert? I have to fly down.” Well, at that time, Eastern Airlines only charged $15 to fly to Washington. I said, “I can go for $15 but then how do I tell my people that I’m working with why I’m going?” I was with the Little League for about six years. My son played and then I stayed on but I got an award from one of the Dodger ballplayers. I forgot his name.
A Ockershausen: The Brooklyn Dodgers, of course.
Mel Krupin: The Brooklyn Dodgers. I said, “I’m going to Washington. They’re going to give me an award for the Little League.” That’s how I got out and they didn’t know where I was going. I flew to Washington and then at six o’clock, I got into the restaurant and Duke wasn’t there yet. Then he came in for dinner and we sat down and we talked. He looked at me. He wasn’t very happy. Duke never wanted a manager. He thought he could run it himself.
A Ockershausen: Without any help.
Mel Krupin: But these people had said that the profit margin wasn’t there. He wasn’t being able to take care of the store by himself. They needed a manager. We talked for awhile and then he said, “All right, this is the end of August.” He says, “Why don’t you come down a week after Labor Day?” which was September 9th. I went home and I spoke to Gloria and her mother and her father and my mother and my father and I decided, “I’m going to go to Washington but Gloria’s staying home.” She stayed home for 10 months so the kids could finish school and then when June came, she would move to Washington. I stayed in Washington by myself for 10 months. I flew to Washington. When I got off the plane, I felt like one of the little kids in London during the war. They had their suitcase and they came into … They were taking ’em out.
A Ockershausen: They shipped ’em out of town.
Mel Krupin: They took a taxi and they said, “Go to the LaSalle Building. That’s where the restaurant is.” They gave me an apartment upstairs to live.
A Ockershausen: I remember the LaSalle building.
Mel Krupin: In fact, the owner of the building became a partner with Duke because when Duke moved from the little restaurant to the big restaurant, they ran out of money, so they went to Milton Ritzenberg and they said, “We need help.” He took a third of the business and he gave them some money to build the place over. Then when I walked into Duke, he greeted me and then he said to me, “Go inside and see the fellows in the kitchen.” He didn’t take me. I went by myself and here I walked in with a pinstriped suit and they’re all looking at me. They don’t understand what’s going on. A few days later, I found out Duke had lost a marker in Las Vegas and there was an idea that I came from Las Vegas to watch the restaurant. All of a sudden, I became a member of the mob. My wife, when she moved down here, on Connecticut Avenue, they had a few stores and they had a credit card for all those stores in that area, before American Express and all the others.
A Ockershausen: I know the card. I know the one you mean.
Mel Krupin: She went into one and she asked to make out an application. They get a card and put down “Where does your husband work?” She goes, “Duke Zeibert’s.” “Forget about the application. You got a card. Don’t worry about it.” She stayed home for 10 months and then we moved here and then we had to find a place to live.
A Ockershausen: Gloria ended up loving it. She’s a delightful, delightful lady. Happens to have my birthday. We were both born the same day. Gloria also became a football fan. She used to go with you to the Redskins.
Mel Krupin: That’s right, because we went with Duke. He took us to the games and we sat there. In 1971, Edward Bennett Williams gave me my own season tickets.
A Ockershausen: Is that right? Your own?
Mel Krupin: My own season tickets. Then I was able to be a Redskins fan. Things changed later on in my story about the Redskins but that’s how I started with Duke.
A Ockershausen: That’s a great story and I’m so glad you told them about Gloria. She was a great partner of yours, Mel.
Mel Krupin: That’s right. She still is.
A Ockershausen: I would see you all every Sunday. The whole world’s changed. You can’t do that anymore at the Redskins. It’s gone.
Mel Krupin: In December, we’ll be married 63 years.
A Ockershausen: She’s put up with you all these years.
Mel Krupin: I’ve known her 67 years.
Duke Zeibert’s closes and Mel Krupin’s opens
A Ockershausen: Your old restaurant, the old Duke’s was on L Street next to the alley and the parking lot and then, through the grace of God, Duke closed and left you out on the street.
Mel Krupin: Right. He didn’t make arrangements for me to have a job, so I had to go and find a business of my own.
A Ockershausen: Wait a minute. This thing says a deli but this is Romanian Inn.
Mel Krupin: No, no, this is the big restaurant.
A Ockershausen: Mel, believe me, it was.
Mel Krupin: Mel Krupin’s. I bought-
A Ockershausen: It was a big restaurant. Paul Young’s.
Mel Krupin: I found-
A Ockershausen: Paul and his brother, right?
Mel Krupin: Right, David. I found a benefactor who came to me and said, “Do you want to open a restaurant?” I said, “I don’t have that kind of cash,” but he says, “I’ll help you.” I found out through Milton Kronheim-
A Ockershausen: Uncle Milty.
Mel Krupin: That the young boys wanted to retire, get out of the business. In order to meet, we had to meet in the Mayflower in Milton Kronheim’s apartment because he didn’t want the employees to know there was any discussion about selling the restaurant. We’d eat in Milton’s apartment and we’d make a deal. The only problem I had with the deal was I had a deal with the Bender Brothers and Morty Bender was my nemesis. He was in charge of the contract for the family and he didn’t want to do certain things. At that time, he was ousted from his brothers. He left the office. He was on his own. We would walk in the street and I’d give him the contract and he’d read through chapters and say, “Change this. Change that,” and I’d go back to the lawyer and change it. The next morning, we would meet on Connecticut Avenue and we’d walk the other way and he’d read it and he said, “I don’t like this one.” I said, “You just changed it.” “Now we go here.”
A Ockershausen: That was Morty, right?
Mel Krupin: Morty Bender.
A Ockershausen: Grinder.
Mel Krupin: I said to the other two brothers, Howard and … I said, “Look, do I have the lease?” He says, “You got it. Don’t listen to Morty.” So, one day I said to Morty, “This is it. I’m not moving. You want to change one more thing? I’m out of the deal.” In the morning, I called up and I got the lease. Six o’clock in the morning, Morty calls me up and he says, “I told you not to go to my brothers.” I said, “You’re not the landlord. I need the lease to build it.” I said, “Take a walk with your dog and leave me alone.” That’s how I-
A Ockershausen: He did. He left you alone, left you to Howard.
Mel Krupin: That’s right.
A Ockershausen: Who was a delightful man.
Creating Mel Krupin’s
Mel Krupin: In August, we signed up to take the building. We brought in the construction people and they were changing over the place because my partner, he had grander ideas. He wanted to make the most beautiful restaurant in Washington. We worked on it and they had a big board. This was the chairs. This was the curtains. This was the mirrors. This was the-
A Ockershausen: Oh, boy.
Mel Krupin: I didn’t know what it meant, everything up there. The funny thing is, he says to me, “They’re beveled mirrors.” I came home to my wife and I said, “What’s a beveled mirror?” She said, “It’s a mirror that … The edge, they’ve got a little thing on the edge.” “I thought a mirror’s a mirror. I shave every morning. I don’t see no edge.” Anyway, we built the restaurant.
A Ockershausen: A lot of money to put that restaurant together.
Mel Krupin: I will tell you this. We built the restaurant. In 1980, the primary was 21%.
A Ockershausen: I remember it well.
Mel Krupin: Thank God for the Madison Bank.
A Ockershausen: Blackie Auger kept you in business.
Mel Krupin: What a way to go into business, with 21% prime. They told the construction people I wanted … They said to me, “You’ve got to hurry up. We work seven days a week,” and I said, “We’ll give it to you for your birthday.” He didn’t know my birthday’s in October. I said, “Well, you’re on. My birthday’s October.” I opened up October 15th. My birthday was October 14th.
A Ockershausen: You made it.
Three Day Launch Party
Mel Krupin: I made it. The only bad thing was I had to have a party, an opening party, so I did it for three days and I had this box of envelopes that I had taken from Duke Zeibert’s. Nobody had credit cards but they had signed the tickets, so we had that.
A Ockershausen: Yea that’s right. To be signed.
Mel Krupin: We had that. That was the only system that I had that I knew names and addresses of clients, so we wrote and we gave out invitations to an opening party for three days. Now, I have this big box and I’m walking to the mail route on the corner of Connecticut Avenue and I said, “I’ve got to drop this in. Am I ready?” Because I had the chef and the cooks and everybody working. What I did was I took all the help that worked for Duke Zeibert’s. They begged me to give them a job when Duke closed and I promised them I’d give them a job. We were a union shop. We signed with the union. I gave them all the health benefits. They can come work for me if they wait from May, June and they come to work for me.
All right, everything is settled. I had this big box and I said, “I feel like Eisenhower, D-Day. I’m opening up the thing and I’m dropping them in here. We’re going. June 6th.” The ironic part was Duke came back three years later and reopened.
A Ockershausen: We want to get into that story. Hold up here. We’re going to take a break here on Our Town. We’re talking to Mel Krupin and he’s about to start talking about the matzo ball wars.
Mel Krupin: Oh, yeah.
A Ockershausen: But not yet. This is Andy Ockershausen.
[Commercial] This is Andy Ockershausen talking to Tommy Jacomo and bragging about his restaurant, the Palm.
Tommy Jacomo: Hi, I’m Tommy Jacomo. I want you to come down and see me at the Palm restaurant. I’ve been here for 43 years. We have great steaks, great lobsters, great food, caricatures on the wall. It’s just a fun place to eat and drink. We’re located at 19th and N, just below Dupont Circle. For reservations, call 202-293-9091. That’s 202-293-9091. www.thepalm.com. [End Commercial]
A Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen. We’re back on Our Town with one of the pillars of the old Our Town, Mel Krupin. I remember when you redid that restaurant. You had a waiter named Louie. Louie was Bud Doggett’s favorite and he had a lot, a lot of people come into that restaurant. I also remember when Mr. Cooke got mad about the Washington Federals.
Washington Federals Banner Creates Stir for Krupin
Mel Krupin: No, no, Mr. Edward Bennett Williams.
A Ockershausen: Oh, I thought it was Cooke that got mad.
Mel Krupin: No, no, Cooke is the one who stopped me but Williams is the one who saw it. The Federals started in April and they had just signed up James.
A Ockershausen: Of ’83.
Mel Krupin: ’83.
Speaker 1: Craig James?
A Ockershausen: Craig James.
Mel Krupin: Craig James.
A Ockershausen: We did a broadcast. I remember it.
Mel Krupin: I had a big banner up the stairs when you came down and it said, “The Federals.” It was April. And you book your tickets and go to the ballpark. They couldn’t get to the Redskins. I didn’t think anything of it. Edward Williams used to come every Saturday morning with four or five lawyers for lunch, every Saturday. This Saturday, he looks up there and he sees this big sign for the Federals. I wasn’t working for lunch but my brother was. He says, “Where’s your brother?” He says, “He’s home.” He says, “You get your brother to take that flag down.” Morty took it down and that ended it. I used to take the cake to the Redskins every Thursday with milk and ice cream.
A Ockershausen: That’s correct, out to the park.
Mel Krupin: I get in the car and I bring the stuff to the Redskins Park and they say, “Ooh, wait a minute. We have to see that … You can’t bring it in.” I said, “Why?” “Because of the Federal flag. Mr. Cooke doesn’t want you to bring the ice cream anymore.” I said, “Where’s the coach?” The coach is out on the field, Joe Gibbs. I said, “Can I see the coach?” Anyway, the runner went out and he went to the coach and he says, “Bring it in.”
The next week, I got a note. I was at the ballpark and I was standing there smoking my big cigar with John Cooke, Jack Cooke’s son.
A Ockershausen: Right, Johnny Cake.
Mel Krupin: He would hide from his father that he was smoking, so he would stand by me so the smoke from my cigar would blind it so his father wouldn’t see him smoking. Then, all of a sudden, he had a fellow that worked for him that was his aide and he came to me and he says, “Give me back your parking pass and you can’t park here anymore.” He couldn’t take away my tickets but he took away my parking pass. Years later on, when I was at the deli, in walked Mr. Cooke at night in his nice slim suit and he sat down.
A Ockershausen: Savile Row. He’s British.
Mel Krupin: He was already sitting up nice and he says to me, “I want to tell you, Mel. That incident we had, that wasn’t me. That was Edward Bennett Williams. He didn’t like that flag.”
Jack Kent Cooke
Mel Krupin: I’ll tell you a story about Jack Kent Cooke. When Duke opened up and I sent him a nice plant and everything and Duke said it was as phony as a $3 bill, Mr. Cooke got up on the television to speak. He said, “You know, I parked my car at Mel Krupin’s and I came over here to eat at Duke’s.” The next morning, I sent him a bill for $18 for parking. Then, two weeks later, I got a check.
A Ockershausen: He did pay! Oh, my God.
Mel Krupin: Then he sent somebody over to the deli and the man walks in. He said, “Mr. Cooke, he’d like some of that brown bread and he’d like some of those frankfurters.” I said, “All right. How much?” “Give him a whole bag.” I gave him everything and I said, “All right, you owe me $19.” “I don’t have any money.” I said, “What do you mean you don’t have any money?” “Mr. Cooke said he’ll pay you.” “He couldn’t give you a few dollars to pick this up?” He says, “No.” Up until the time he died, I never got paid.
A Ockershausen: That’s not surprising, Mel. They were good years when you were running your own place. I recall you had music upstairs.
Mel Krupin: I had a terrific piano player.
A Ockershausen: Was it Ken Harvey?
Mel Krupin: Ken Harvey.
A Ockershausen: Everything was going great.
Mel Krupin: Everybody used to love to come to the bar. I even had Moses. That was the actor …
Simultaneous: Charlton Heston.
Mel Krupin: Charlton Heston and his wife.
A Ockershausen: I thought you meant Moses Siegel.
Mel Krupin: No, no, Moses Siegel wasn’t … Moses was sitting at the bar. He came in with some people for dinner and then he came up in the lounge and he stayed. It was one o’clock in the morning, so the waitress says, “Here’s the check.” He looked at it. He says, “Oh, no, I don’t pay.” She came to me and she says, “This gentleman doesn’t want to pay.” I said, “Oh, he’s got the tablet, see? He can do anything he wants. I’ll pick up the check.”
A Ockershausen: Oh, Mel. What a great story. Then Duke decided to get back in business.
Krupin Loses Staff to Duke Zeibert’s Revival
Mel Krupin: Duke had the option to return to business because they needed a restaurant in the building for Arent Fox.
A Ockershausen: Lerner.
Mel Krupin: Lerner needed a building because Arent Fox took three floors. They moved from their other location to the new building and they had to have a restaurant. Duke had option of first refusal, so he decided to let Teddy Lerner build him a restaurant because he said he needed a place for Randy to work.
A Ockershausen: His son, Randy, the maitre d’.
Mel Krupin: I’m sitting in my office and this is March and in walk six cooks. They say to me, “Boss, we have bad news for you.” “What’s the matter? Something happen in the kitchen?” “No, we’re leaving.” I said, “Where are you going?” “We’re going to work for Duke. Duke says he owns us. He started with us and we belong with him.” I said, “You all begged me to give you a job when Duke closed. I gave you a job, I gave you insurance for your families and you’re walking out on me in March? He didn’t build the restaurant yet.” “Randy said he’ll take care of us until we open up in the Fall.”
A Ockershausen: Wow. That’s six months.
Mel Krupin: I said, “All right, goodbye.” I had to go train new people. The chef from Lion d’Or and the chef from Tony’s came to me and they said, “If you need any help, I’ll help you.” Then I had to interview different people and start all over again. He took everybody. He took 28 employees, including a hatcheck girl.
A Ockershausen: When did the war start? It started when he opened. Who coined the matzo ball war? Who coined that phrase?
Mel Krupin: Morrie Siegel.
A Ockershausen: Mo Siegel?
Mel Krupin: Mo Siegel, because when they left me in March, that’s when the war started. Duke ate at my restaurant every day, no check.
A Ockershausen: Right, he was your guest.
Mel Krupin: He was my guest. I even put his picture on the Wall of Fame.
A Ockershausen: I remember that.
Mel Krupin: Then, after March, when everybody … That’s when the attack started but he never told me he’s reopening. Other people did. Izzy Cohen from Giant Food made me a button. It says, “I know already.” I put it on the lapel of my jacket and somebody would say to me, “Do you know Duke is opening again?” “I already heard.”
A Ockershausen: Izzy. He was a regular.
Mel Krupin: Izzy was a regular.
A Ockershausen: Oh, boy. I see Izzy and Pauline Betz Addie. Remember her?
Mel Krupin: Of course.
A Ockershausen: The great tennis player.
Mel Krupin: The bridge club.
A Ockershausen: You had a lot of characters, of course, but a lot of important people. You knew who to seat and where to seat ’em in the restaurant. What did you do with Siegel? You kept him hidden, of course.
Mel Krupin: Siegel I had to keep there because he was a PR man. When Siegel was with Duke, if Duke did something wrong and Siegel would say something, Duke wouldn’t talk to him and Siegel would say, “That man’s crazy.”
A Ockershausen: Oh, they had cats and dogs fights.
Mel Krupin: They fought cats and dogs. You had to agree with Duke on everything but Morrie was a nice guy and I really miss guys like Morrie.
A Ockershausen: He wrote a lot about your restaurant. I know that.
Mel Krupin: So did his wife. She wrote big when she was with the Washington Star.
A Ockershausen: Look, I don’t want to tell you; I know your problems with Jack Kent Cooke and the Federals. We did the same thing. We signed the Federals to a contract to broadcast their games and I got a call from Mr. Cooke to come to his place in Virginia. He wanted to see me, so I went out there. He gave me a glass of wine. I said, “Thank you, Mr. Cooke.” He said, “Now, let me get you, dear darling Andrew.” That’s what he … I knew it was coming. He said, “This Washington Federals thing. I know it was not your idea because you’re not that stupid.” He said, “It was Lenny’s,” Leonard Goldenson, head of ABC. I said, “Sorry, Mr. Cooke. It was not Leonard Goldenson. It was me” He said, “I tell you, you’re not that stupid. Now, get out of it.” That was his words and I did. We got out of it. You know how we got out of it? The league folded. I escaped with the rights.
Mel Krupin: I thought it was a good idea for the league because it gave people an opportunity to go to a football game-
A Ockershausen: Absolutely, that couldn’t get in.
Mel Krupin: The kids couldn’t get into the Redskins Park.
A Ockershausen: This is Our Town and we’re talking to Mel Krupin and reminiscing about the good old days but the good old days are now and that’s what we’re going to talk about next on Our Town.
[Commercial] Sonny Jurgensen: This is Sonny Jurgensen. Got a confession to make. I let my wife drag me to one of those Mike Collins estate planning seminars, like I don’t have enough on my plate with a certain football team.
Actually, it wasn’t too bad. In fact, we both learned a whole lot about how to protect our kids and grandkids down the road and to take care of ourselves right now. If you get one of Mike’s invitations in the mail, go. I’m glad I did.
Get all the information and register online at mikecollins.com. That’s mikecollins.com. [End Commercial]
Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town with Andy Ockershausen, brought to you by Best Bark Communications.
A Ockershausen: Talking to the eminent ex-restaurateur, Mel Krupin. We want to talk to your life after Mel Krupin’s. What did you do? Where did you disappear to?
Life after Mel Krupin’s
Mel Krupin: After Mel Krupin’s closed, I traveled on and I met somebody who wanted to open a restaurant in Rockville. There was a Rockville place that Murry’s Steak had where now is called Staples, that piece of property. These fellows, the Murry’s Steaks sons were involved and they wanted to name it Mel Krupin’s New York Steakhouse. I went there for a while and we stayed there and then they ran out of money and they wanted to bring somebody in to be partners with them and I didn’t like the guy that they brought in, so I said, “You’ve got two weeks to take down the sign. I’m leaving.” Then I met a fellow from the Washington Court Hotela. He was the manager. He came in and I had stuff in the bar at the new place that I gave to put into the bar at the Washington Court Hotel. Then Jackie Presser and the union leaders from the iron workers, they decided I should go to this Washington Court Hotel, which was owned by the union.
A Ockershausen: Right downtown.
Mel Krupin: Operating on New Jersey Avenue. It was owned by the Operating Engineers of California. They bought it for about $55 million cash. They wanted $75 million and it was attached to two office buildings. It used to be the Sheraton.
A Ockershausen: I remember it well.
Mel Krupin: I came there and I opened Mel Krupin’s Signature Room. It was a small little restaurant and they made a few adjustments but then they had a big room upstairs. It was an atrium between the office buildings and they thought it would be nice to make it a banquet hall but they needed permission to get it. They needed something from the district-
A Ockershausen: Zoning.
Mel Krupin: So that it’d get built. They’d been trying and trying and they couldn’t get it. One day, as soon as I open the restaurant, in walks Mrs. Thompson, who was Marion Barry’s assistant. She greets me and she says, “How is everything?” I said, “You know, everything is fine but I need a favor.” I said, “I want to take this room here that we’re serving lunch in and I want to make a ballroom with the atrium, you know. You can have a beautiful scene.” She said, “What do you need?” “I need somebody to come over and give me the stuff that we can sign off that I can give the contractor.” She says, “When do you need it?” I said, “Tomorrow.” Two days later, I had it and a year later they start building and we had a place. That was my connection. I stayed there three years. It was run by a group that only ran hotels that were owned by unions.
A Ockershausen: You’ve mentioned something that triggers me because Janice … My Janice Ockershausen, who’s producing this whole idea … It was her idea. You understand that. We had dinner with Bud and Sherry Doggett at your place in the Washington Court Hotel. Leaving there, in the lobby, this TV is on and big story: Marion Barry arrested in a bust. We couldn’t believe it. We stopped and looked at it and Bud got on the phone real quick. He called somebody real quick at the police department. It was true and that was the story of Marion’s demise. He went to jail.
Mel Krupin: I stayed there awhile and then they got a manager from Washington State. Then George Albark said to me, “At the Grand Hotel, they had a deli,” and he wanted to put one in the Washington Court Hotel. Above the bar, we had this large mezzanine. He said, “This is a good space we can build a deli,” and I built him a deli and it was connected to the office building so people could come in and have lunch. This new manager comes in from Oregon or Washington state, wherever he was. He says, “I don’t like what you do with this deli.” He says, “We do this thing different in Oregon. Instead of potato salad and coleslaw, we serve popcorn.” I said, “Popcorn? This is Jewish-style deli. What do you mean, popcorn?” I don’t think he liked Jews. Anyway, after a while, if you sat there at the bar, you thought you were in a movie house because of the smell from popcorn. After a while, he and I didn’t get along and then I said, “It’s time to get out.” While I was at the Washington Court Hotel, I met a man who owed a piece of property on Wisconsin Avenue, 4620, opposite the Dancing Crab.
A Ockershausen: Ah, yes.
Mel Krupin: Cy Katzen. Cy Katzen was a builder.
A Ockershausen: Dr. Katzen.
Mel Krupin: That’s Cy Katzen. Cy Katzen was a dentist when he started in Northeast Washington or Southeast, wherever he was. He showed me a book. He had 20 clients a day for $2 a piece and he cleaned teeth or fixed their teeth. Somebody said to him, “You know, there’s a little building on the corner up the block. Go buy it.” That started his empire.
A Ockershausen: Cy, I knew Cy very well.
Mel Krupin: He became a multimillionaire and now he’s got the museum at American University, he gave them $15 million and all the paintings from his home. Cy built this place. The first two people that owned it were two Iranians. They called it the New York Deli. They didn’t do so good. Cy was down in Florida where we lived in Palm Beach and he saw TooJay’s, so he went to TooJay’s in Florida and he says, “I have this piece of property. I have a deli in it. Why don’t you come in and open it up and we’ll make it a TooJay’s? I’ll sign a contract, whatever it is. You send me some people. We’ll work on it.” TooJay’s came. They closed the place for two weeks. They fixed it up. They put a canopy up with the name TooJay’s and they sent over three people to work at it: a waitress who became the manager, a baker and a deli man and a waiter. He comes to me, Cy, and he says, “You know, can you do me a favor? Can you go over and be a consultant, see if I’m doing it right?” I said, “Sure.” I sat there for a while. I was there a couple of days and I said to the girl, “Can I order a sandwich?” “Yes.” I said, “Like a half a corn beef and half a pastrami.” She said, “I’m sorry; we don’t make that.” I said, “Okay.” Then I said to the deli man, I said, “Do me a favor. Make me a fruit platter.” So, he took a fruit platter. He took the honeydew, the cantaloupe and the pineapple and he cut it in half, cleaned it out and then, with the skin, he sliced it and he put this on a platter and it looked like Eskimo igloos. I said to him, “Why did you leave the skin on?” He said, “Because when you pick it up, you can go ch-ch-ch-ch-choo. You can bite it.”
A Ockershausen: You can bite it like an ear of corn.
Mel Krupin: Then I said something to the chef. I said to the chef, “You know, we have all this cabbage. We make stuffed cabbage. What do you do with the rest?” He says, “We throw it out.” I said, “Why don’t you make me cabbage soup?” He said, “I know cabbage. I studied in France with this man and I know cabbage, so I’ll make you cabbage soup.” He comes back an hour later, two hours later and he says to me, “I made the cabbage soup,” and it’s as gray as your pants. I said, “There’s something missing.” He says, “Oh, yeah, yeah, I forgot. Come back in 10 minutes. I’ll fix it.” I come back in 10 minutes. He says, “Come in the kitchen.” I look at it. Now it’s purple. I said, “What did you put in here now?” “I put in the borscht.” I said, “It doesn’t go with borscht. It goes with tomatoes.” Then I looked at his jacket and it said “Ex. Chef.” Instead of executive chef, it only had the E and the X. I said, “That’s why you only put borscht in the soup.”
A Ockershausen: Mel, that was a great, great deli. Everybody in Northwest loved it, in Upper Northwest. I know we did some remotes there and Janice and I would go there frequently. It was a great breakfast place, in addition to dinner.
Mel Krupin: We did Harden and Weaver’s farewell dinner but I’ll tell you this: I was the only restaurant in Washington, deli, that got 100 best in the Washingtonian Magazine as a deli. Two stars by my friend …
A Ockershausen: Who was it, Richmond?
Mel Krupin: No.
Speaker 2: Shoffner.
Mel Krupin: Shoffner, Robert Shoffner. Somebody once asked the fellows that owned The Prime Rib wanted to know if I lived with Shoffner because they never got mentioned and I did.
A Ockershausen: You had the real Jewish deli. We knew that.
Mel Krupin: When I was at Krupin’s and the food critic from the New York Times came to see me, her critique was that it was Judo-American because matzo balls and chicken in a pot and chopped liver, it was a Judo-American restaurant.
A Ockershausen: Mel, you’re just a legend. Then, I know, I followed you then after you left the deli with your brother, a delightful man, great guy. Then you were doing stand-up at a place called Attman’s. Janice and I came out to see you.
Mel Krupin: No, no, no, that’s …
A Ockershausen: That was much later. Then you went down to McCormick & Schmick’s.
McCormick & Schmick’s
Mel Krupin: When I sold the deli, I came home and I said, “I’m retiring,” because then I’d reached 70 years and I said, “I want to walk out, not be carried out.” I stayed home about a month and I couldn’t take it anymore, so I went ahead and I looked up in the newspaper restaurant managers. All they gave me was, “Send a resume to this number,” and I didn’t know the name of the restaurant. It could have been Burger King. It could have been Marriott. McCormick & Schmick’s had an ad for a maitre d’ for lunch, so I got all dressed up with a suit and tie and I came down to McCormick & Schmick’s on K Street and 17th. I walked in at about 2 o’clock after lunch and I sat there and the young lady says to me, “I’m interested in the ad.” She handed me an application. I never made out an application in 35 years. I made out the application and then while I’m finishing it, she says, “The district manager is sitting over there. She’d like to see you.” I brought over the application. I sat down with her. Her name was Connie Collins. She was the district manager. She looks at it and she says, “Oh, Mel Krupin. Oh, your father was a very famous restaurateur.” I said, “Yeah, he was. He was but I have to tell you something: I’m Mel Krupin.” She said, “Yeah, isn’t that nice?” She says, “Yeah, don’t worry about it. You can come in tomorrow.” Anyway, I came in the next day dressed up ready to go to work at nine o’clock and the young lady is standing there and she says, “Welcome to McCormick & Schmick’s. I know you’re going to be the maitre d’.” She says, “Can you do me a favor?” I said, “What would you like?” “Can you take the fleece and clean the windows on the revolving doors?” I said, “That’s not in my contract.”
A Ockershausen: Not in my job description.
Mel Krupin: I stayed there for 10 years.
A Ockershausen: I know that, Mel. You were an institution, back downtown in Our Town.
Mel Krupin: Gloria got hurt. She slipped and broke her neck.
A Ockershausen: Oh, my.
Mel Krupin: Then we had to take care of her, so I said, “It’s time to get out.”
A Ockershausen: We miss you downtown but you didn’t leave Our Town, which I’m proud of you for.
Mel Krupin: I miss all the places I was downtown and I miss all the people, especially my good friend, Chuck Conconi, and all the people that I knew and people that were just…who a, Wendy Rieger. Wendy Rieger who did my closing and she did a good story.
A Ockershausen: That’s why we called you the tummler. You were the tummler. Mel, I just can’t tell you how much I appreciate you and what you did for Our town and all the things that we did at your restaurants. Wherever you were, we showed up, whether it was WMAL or My Guys but you were a great friend and we appreciate you so much. Give my best and my love to Gloria. As I told you, we share the same birthday.
Mel Krupin: I know, I know. Happy birthday to Gloria. Happy birthday to Andy O.
A Ockershausen: She’s a wonderful lady.
Mel Krupin: I’ll make out two cards.
A Ockershausen: This has been Our Town. We’ve had a wonderful, wonderful conversation with Mel Krupin and I hope he doesn’t leave Our Town.
Mel Krupin: Nah.
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