family members, neighbors, chefs, friends, philanthropists, advocates, business owners
For many Pasadenans there is a wonderful hidden eatery on the east side of town where you can find delicious food and be treated like a member of the family. Certainly it evokes a feeling of neighborliness that is rare in our fast-paced and profit driven world, where a smile and sincere greetings are much appreciated by hungry customers.
The story of this family, however, is larger than just customer service and hefty sandwiches, it includes overcoming immense tragedy and twisting adversity into generosity. None of us has an easy path to walk, so it is more about how we walk it rather than what our challenges are. If we all rebounded from great loss as gracefully as Meghan and Kaytee and John and Nicole, imagine how much more beautiful the world would be.
Here are some highlights from a recent conversation with the Fink Family about what binds them together and why they are so committed to community service:
1. What are your earliest memories of the PSC? Describe one of your best early moments at the PSC.
I remember waking up and going into the deli with our dad and having cereal and watching cartoons while he opened up the shop. He would then send us across the street to buy balloons to put in front of the store. The back room at our first location was big and he put a fisher price pool table and bean bags back there so we could play and rest while he worked. We would come out and help him and visit with the customers and then go back and hang out in our back room. Nicole was refilling drinks and asked a gentleman what he was having. He said, “Tea.” She said, “Regular or Tropical?” He said, “I don’t know?” She took a sip and said, “That’s tropical!” I remember my dad having me make coleslaw and he said add some salt and pepper and I had no idea how much so I added some and of course added way too much. We mixed it, added a lot more cabbage, and when he couldn’t make it any better because it was still a little salty, he said, “I guess you’ll be refilling a lot of drinks today.”
2. What is your family’s history in owning and operating a deli? Why a deli and not a dry cleaners or flower shop?
Our great-grandfather had a restaurant in Los Angeles and when our grandfather would get into trouble he would have to slice butter for the restaurant. He went to law school and worked in the ship yards in Long Beach. After living and working up in Big Bear, my grandma was done on the mountain and they moved down south to Claremont. It was then that our grandfather said to our grandmother, “I want to make beef dips.” Our grandmother said, “I know how to roast beef and I know how to make potato salad.” She says now that she is 97 years old that she should have kept her mouth shut. So it happened that our grandparents, Bert and Doris, started Tony’s Deli in Pomona in the 1950s. Our dad was just a little kid. They would cook the meats and make the salads at home. Our grandma would take my grandpa into the shop to turn on the steam tables and start setting up to open, while she would finish up cooking and baking. They would open up shop and make sandwiches until they sold out of product. They always tried to stay open late enough that they men working across the street could come over and have dinner when they got off of work. And so it happened….
3. These days, what is your greatest challenge in running a sandwich shop?
We are each discovering what we are good at in business and are learning how to organize our business by heart. This is how our dad did it. He just had it! We are growing not only as a business but as individuals and with one another and we are taking it slow and being patient as dust settles. We are so lucky to be able to adjust and learn and grow together and because it is an ever changing business, we continue to change and learn new things to keep up with the world that surrounds us.
4. My friends always remark on how welcome they feel at the PSC and what a friendly atmosphere they find there. What is your secret to maintaining such a positive and caring place even with the pressures of long lines and multiple orders?
We are a family restaurant. We feel like we are having people into our home and we love it that way. Our dad always said, “You never know when it is a person’s first sandwich or their 100th sandwich. Please one person and keep a customer for life. Upset one customer and not only will you lose them, but you will lose all of their friends.” We love what we do, so it is easy for us to be authentic in our home away from home.
5. After the tragic passing of your father you all could have left the restaurant business in order to pursue your own career paths (teachers, yoga instructors, hair stylists, etc.), but you chose to maintain the PSC instead. What motivated you to take this somewhat risky path rather than the more traditional ones?
I don’t think we ever even questioned selling PSC or closing it down for that matter. We kept PSC going while our dad was sick to help him maintain his life. That was a really hard time because we really didn’t know what we were doing. We just had our hearts in it for our dad. When he passed away we closed the deli for a week and when we had what we have been told is our “second opening” we were so incredibly supported by our community who essentially held our hands, cried with us, and kept coming and watching us grow into what is now our restaurant. We were able to grieve with our community and hear amazing stories about our dad that we would have never had without opening the deli back up. I can’t imagine making a different decision!
6. You have started a foundation to aid in the search for a cure for the disease that your father had and developed fundraising activities to support it. What inspired you to create the foundation?
Our dad was the most incredible man and dad I’ve ever known. He gave everyone the shirt off of his back! When he was sick we had no idea how bad it really was. When the doctors discovered that he had Amyloidosis they were as shocked as we were. Here at Huntington Hospital, he was one of the first diagnosed cases ever seen. When we were told there was nothing that could be done, we couldn’t believe our ears. So, when we lost our dad we knew that the world needed to learn about this disease because it masks itself as several similar diseases. We want to shed light on this rare disease and give what we can in the hopes of earlier detection, expanding treatment options and making the disease, Amyloidosis, more commonly known.
7. You have been involved with other community projects in recent years, including a Thanksgiving food drive and Share-A-Meal with the Pasadena Fire Department and Pasadena Unified School District’s Families in Transition. What has been the outcome of those efforts? And why is it important to you to be involved in the community in this way?
Our dad wanted to feed every single person in Pasadena. Not only did he commence this Thanksgiving effort back when he started PSC in 1995 but he never wanted anyone to be alone during the holidays. He opened up the shop to everyone on Thanksgiving so that they could be together. After his passing we were approached by firefighter, Steve Lawhorn, who said, “You know your dad would be feeding people on Thanksgiving.” This started the wheels turning and we decided in 2012 to bring back our Thanksgiving event in his honor. Our dad was a family man through and through, so Lawhorn and I wanted to make the Thanksgiving event about family’s who are forgotten and this is how we connected with the Unified School District. Now we are a team! Our first year we fed about 125 people and this year we fed over 200 people. I have never felt more grateful to give back to our community and find our Thanksgiving Share-A-Meal event to be one of the greatest and most memorable events that we have at PSC and for the Stephen E. Fink Fund. Not only does it touch the families hearts that are invited, but it also touches the hearts of the volunteers that come for the day. It is an all-around incredible day.
8. What are your plans for the PSC in the next couple of years? What do you hope that it becomes?
We love what we do like I’ve said multiple times already and look forward to more and more involvement in our community over the years. We are a Landmark here in Pasadena and will be celebrating our 20th Anniversary in 2015, which will be monumental. We want to keep on feeding Pasadena and expanding our catering into all of the awesome businesses in Pasadena and surrounding areas that are always looking for home-cooked, wholesome food for meetings, parties, art gallery openings and all other awesome events that are always happening in our awesome city.
If you feel as though there are redundancies here then we can combine the questions. One that I didn’t ask but hope that you touch on in your answers is how continuing with the restaurant has impacted the relationships you have with each other. It seems as though you are closer now than ever, but it is difficult to tell from the outside.
I love working with my brother and sisters! I can’t imagine a day where I didn’t work with my siblings! We get to see each other day after day, and week after week. We have a business relationship and a family relationship and it is important to be able to separate the two. We have our differences and we always come back around to one another. It is the most amazing set of relationships I’ve ever had and could ever wish for. I am always amazed by us. We were raised to always hug, kiss and make up and I’m telling you, it has paid off. Patience, respect, love, saying sorry, accepting apologies, and moving on is the key in life. We are always practicing relationships with one another and we get to be one another’s teacher, student, friend, and sibling. It allows us to grow as human beings and continue to learn about compromise and that family is first. Nothing will come between us and if the business ever gets in the way of us being brother and sisters, then the business will go.