By Genevieve A. Suzuki
Photos by Jeff "Turbo" Corrigan(Published in the January 2011 issue)
As Jewish deli D.Z. Akin’s bounds into its third decade, another generation of Akins has stepped up to the plate to continue pushing Matzo ball soup on the masses.
Having studied film at USC in LA, Elan Akin, 29, never imagined returning home to assume general management duties of his family’s restaurant just east of SDSU. He was working as a television producer for HGTV when his parents, Debi and Zvika (“D” and “Z”) told him they were thinking of selling the place.
His older brother, Neal, who everyone had thought would take over the business, had opted instead for a career in real estate. Younger brother, David, works in the bakery, but at age 19, he’s still too young to take over.
"[Neal] always wanted to do this. I didn’t feel strongly either way,” Akin says.
Nevertheless, when D and Z told their middle son about the possibility of a non-Akin-owned deli, he returned to San Diego without regret, despite admitting that, at the time, he didn’t think he was "leaving-leaving” LA for good.
Akin soon warmed to the idea of playing a larger role at D.Z. It’s a family business, after all, and who better to help keep the name and tradition alive?
“It’s my parents’ being here that made the business,” he says.
Zvika, originally from Israel, was working as a kosher butcher in Los Angeles when he met Debi.
“They fell in love over a bowl of chopped liver,” says Akin with a chuckle. “It’s a very Jewish story.”
That love the couple had for each other spilled over into the restaurant they opened together.
“The deli, when it started, was tiny,” Akin says. “It was a family business and luckily it was a successful family business. That meant my parents worked a lot.”
Now, the workload is largely his, and Akin has embraced the challenge.
“This is the beginning of the future,” he says, “but you don’t change something that works.”
With one eye focused on modernization, Akin remains eager to preserve the deli’s heritage. As it’s always been, diners will continue to be able to nosh deli pickles at the table while the wait-staff serves up personality-plus. What’s new, among other things, is that the once-photocopied table tents have been replaced with digitally-printed, full-color versions. Akin has also created the Noshers Club, an opt-in email program that notifies customers of specials and discounts.
“It’s just to sort of acknowledge that there are always things to evolve to,” he says.
Mother Debi continues to offer input, such as the addition of designer salads to what’s been mostly a traditional Jewish deli menu.
“For every client who comes in wanting a Reuben,” Akin says, "they might have a daughter who’d want a salad.”
Despite leaving the glitz of show biz behind, Akin regards his (sorta) new career as a wonderful opportunity.
“Not everyone has a successful business handed to them,” he says. “If I ever felt the need for that side of me to come out, I’d shoot a commercial.”
Just What the Doctor Ordered
In addition to the Reuben sandwich (“smoked, pickled meats are the icons of the deli”), D.Z. Akin’s general manager Elan Akin says the deli’s defining menu item is matzo ball soup, which is not only delicious but also a favorite elixir among under-the-weather customers. “We joke that it’s Jewish penicillin,” he says.
A Family of Fare
Keeping it in the family runs in the family when it comes to the Akins and the Epsteins. Brian’s 24, a Gaslamp restaurant popular among the post-clubbing crowd, was passed on to the next generation of Epsteins after its owner, Steve Epstein, died a few months ago. Steve was Debi Akin’s (the “D” in D.Z. Akins) brother. He was also a good friend of PacificSD, offering warm support and kind guidance. We miss him a lot.
Working with his mother, Steve’s son, Brian, has asumed the role of running the restaurant, which serves up breakfast 24 hours a day. Coincidentally, Brian’s 24 was not named for the new guy in charge.
“There had been two Brian’s restaurants in San Diego, but eventually the owners split the businesses, and the one who owned the downtown Brian’s sold it to my family,” explains Elan Akin, Brian Epstein’s cousin. “The Epsteins did wonders to improve the restaurant into a success, day and night alike. They’re especially proud of their pancakes-fresh daily with all real ingredients really make these hotcakes stand out.”D.Z. Akin’s
6930 Alvarado Rd., 619.265.0218,
828 6th Ave., 619.702.8410,