When Bruno and Cindy Frisch opened the Junket delicatessen at El Cerrito Plaza in 1979, they wanted their new business to be more than just another deli. They wanted it to be a place where people spend hours talking to friends, meet new people and enjoy some beer or tasty German chocolates. They envisioned the Junket being the center of their community.
This month the Frischs celebrate the 40th anniversary of doing exactly what they set out to do. The Junket, still sporting the same wood paneling and posters on the walls it had when it opened, continues to provide a quiet place to relax and socialize. It sells all kinds of treats from Germany and the U.K. And many of its customers are regulars, some of them having patronized the delicatessen for decades.
“People came here with their children and I would watch them grow up. And if they went away, they always came back to visit,” Cindy Frisch said.
Over four decades the Junket created its own community with Cindy and Bruno at the center. Both in their late 80s, they are at the Junket almost every day, taking orders at the counter and stocking the shelves. They plan to keep coming in, as they just signed another five-year lease.
“I don’t like the word ‘retire,’” Cindy Frisch said.
While the couple started the Junket four decades ago, their relationship is much older. They met back in 1957 overseas. Cindy, who’s British, was visiting a friend who lived in a small town in southern Germany. She didn’t know German but when she saw Bruno, she learned from her friend how to ask for a dance. Bruno didn’t speak much English, so they said little throughout the night. Yet something still clicked. Bruno ended up proposing to Cindy with a ring he made out of copper.
After spending time living in England and Canada, the couple made their way to the Bay Area. They opened the Junket a few years later, as a way to escape the corporate world — Bruno to leave his job at a Cryopak company and Cindy because her employer shut down its San Francisco office, requiring her to move. They saw it as a good time to try something of their own.
They found space at El Cerrito Plaza, taking over a third of what used to be a menswear store. While Cindy hunted down import wholesalers that had the German and British delicacies they wanted to sell, Bruno built all the furniture, from the shelving and wine racks to the napkin holders. Everything he made is still being used today.
The Junket opened on Nov. 3, 1979, and by Cindy’s account, it was a “big event,” with 700 people attending. But it wasn’t without drama, as one of her employees cut his hand badly with a meat slicer.
“I had to sneak him away and take him to the hospital,” Cindy said.
Cindy said that when they opened, she heard critics predict that the Junket wouldn’t last. Yet folks kept coming in, even when the storefront was covered with a blue tarp while El Cerrito Plaza underwent renovations from 2000-2002.
“A lot of regulars have been coming here for longer than I’ve been alive,” 21-year-old Junket employee Austin Fritz said.
Much of that is due to Cindy’s customer service. Known to go beyond the call of a typical delicatessen manager, Cindy helps out her elderly regulars with their bills and gives sandwiches to the occasional homeless person stopping by. One time a regular didn’t come in at his usual time so the Frischs went to his house to check in. Cindy said they discovered he had fallen off his bed and died from his injuries.
“We saw on his desk that he was supposed to meet someone at San Francisco airport so we went to meet her,” Cindy said. “She was so happy when she came off the plane but we had to give her the bad news.”
While the Frischs have no plans to close the Junket, they also intend to keep it a family business. Their son Gary was one of the first employees and he plans to take over the business from his parents. Even their staunch vegetarian daughter Jennifer worked at the deli for years, until she “couldn’t touch the bratwurst anymore.” She continues to be a presence at the Junket, as her humorous, headcheese-inspired art sits on the counter by the cashier.
When Bruno and Cindy do decide to pass the Junket to their son, it will be the end of an era. Yet Cindy says she’ll still come in the Junket to serve her loyal clientele.
“I’ll just come in less,” 89-year-old Cindy said. “Just a few days a week.”