Remembering Cecil’s Owner David Leventhal

The TC Jewfolk community lost an icon earlier this month – the longtime owner and head mensch of Cecil’s Deli, David Leventhal, died at the age of 85.

Cecil’s Deli opened in Highland Park in 1949 and by the 1960’s, there were as many as 13 Jewish delis on that side of the river. Add in at least dozen more in Minneapolis and a solid pastrami on rye could be had all over town. In the decades since, the deli as a community center and an institution for Ashkenazi deliciousness have all but disappeared from the Twin Cities dining scene.

Today, there is only one left – Cecil’s.

David Leventhal and his wife Sheila bought the deli from her parents, the Glickmans, in 1980. They then proceeded to run it for the next four decades. And in those 40 years, David Leventhal got to know his customers, their kids, and maybe even their grandkids. He wasn’t Cecil – but he was Cecil’s. It’s quite possible that some folks came just as much for the kibbitzing as for the reubens. That’s what a deli is and always has been – a place to eat, to schmooze, to gather, to celebrate, to mourn, and to be Jewish.

David Leventhal made it happen day in and day out. Of course, the menu changed some in those 40 years, but the standards remained. The staff turned over too, but David was always there. Cecil’s is still a reliable fixture on Cleveland Avenue, surviving the demise of the deli in Minnesota but also throughout the country. For that, we should all be grateful to David Leventhal – whose meticulous record-keeping no doubt has allowed the business to continue when so many have failed.

For 40 years, David was the Deli Man at Cecil’s, but Sheila is still there – and so are their kids and grandkids. It began as a family-owned and operated deli in 1949 and it remains so largely because of David Leventhal.

Cecil’s looks like a deli. It smells like a deli. It was helmed for 40 years by a real Deli Man. It’s comforting. It’s not kosher, but it’s as Jewish as can be.  And it’s the last of its kind in the Twin Cities. For that, we owe a great deal of gratitude to David Leventhal for continuing our culinary traditions, for being a true mensch, and for making sure that the deli lives on.

He is survived by his loving wife of 63 years, Sheila, his sister Leona Kasen; children Becca (Jonathan) Kvasnik, Brad (Patti), Amy, Aaron (Patty Rivard). Grandpa Dave to his grandchildren Sasha, Evana, Madeline, Max, Sophie, Annie and Stella and many nieces and nephews.