Restauranteur and New Jersey transplant Ben Canter along with his brothers opened Canter’s Deli (originally called Canter Brother’s Delicatessen) in 1931 on Brooklyn Avenue in Boyle Heights. By the late 1940s, the demographic migration of Jews from Boyle Heights to the Beverly-Fairfax area was gaining full steam. Following its clientele and other Boyle Heights commercial establishments such as Solomon’s Bookstore and Leader Beauty Shop that moved westward, Ben Canter opened a second location in 1948 at 439 North Fairfax Avenue.
With the move west came a series of innovations that helped to transform the delicatessen template in Los Angeles. In addition to offering lox, smoked white fish, cod, pastrami, corned beef, and other classic deli fares, as it had in Boyle Heights, the Canter’s on Fairfax also included a homemade bakery. In 1953, Canter's moved into a larger location at 419 North Fairfax Avenue, previously home to the Esquire Theater; Canter’s soon decided to open its doors for a 24 hours a day, one of the first eateries in the city to do so. In the process of expanding and innovating, Canter’s also bought out a competing deli, the already established Cohen’s in 1959.
As perhaps the culinary anchor of the Fairfax Avenue commercial strip, Canter's made quite the impression among many of the locals. As one former resident of the the Beverly-Fairfax neighborhood later recalled, “the big draw, exactly one block from our house, was Canter’s Delicatessen. …[It] served as an all-day and late night gathering place for the neighborhood." And appealing to more than just local Fairfax's Jewish residents, Canter's Deli also operated as a popular culinary destination for Jewish Angelenos that resided in neighborhoods that lacked a visible ethnic ambience. Furthermore, politicians looking to "connect" with Jewish voters frequently visited Canter's as a stop along the campaign trail. Also helping to attract Hollywood entertainment industry types to the restaurant, Canter’s established a cocktail lounge, the Kibitz Room, in 1961.
Sources: Leilah Bernstein, “The Soul of Fairfax Avenue,” Los Angeles Times, March 23, 1999; “History,” http://www.cantersdeli.com/history; Lewis Erenberg, "Boyle Heights Boy: A Memoir of Growing Up in LA," Unpublished; Lynn C Kronzek and Southern California Jewish Historical Society, Fairfax: A Home, a Community, a Way of Life (Los Angeles: Jewish Historical Society of Southern California, 1990); Garnt Lee, “Fairfax--It’s Still Where the Heart Is,” Los Angeles Times, December 21, 1975.