During the sixth season of “The West Wing,” while the White House staff was fressing, someone asked President Josiah Bartlet (portrayed by Martin Sheen) where they got the pastrami. The president replied, “Krupin’s.”
Though the White House on “The West Wing” was fictional, Krupin’s was not. It was owned by Washington restauranteur Mel Krupin, who died on Aug. 27. He was 90.
Krupin had been the maître d at Duke Zeiberts on Connecticut and L streets N.W. before opening his own restaurant, Mel Krupin’s, down the street in 1980. After that closed, he opened in 1990 a deli in Tenleytown in 1990, which his son, Jay Krupin, likened to the diner in “When Harry Met Sally.”
A review of the deli in Gayot noted, “Washington’s favorite deli boasts terrific corned beef, smoked fish that is brought in from Brooklyn and a beef-in-the-pot that is a generous combination of chicken soup, matzoh balls, and boned short ribs of beef that would do any Jewish mother proud. The main attraction (other than the food) is Morty and Mel, the Krupin brothers themselves, who are often wise-cracking with the customers and one another. Some people go just for the show.”
“Dad was iconic in the food world,” Jay Krupin said. “Dad had a number of restaurants, all with a Jewish underpinning. It wasn’t just the food. It was his personality. He would joke” with his customers, including local NFL football coach George Allen, Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil, senator and astronaut John Glenn and television anchor Frank Reynolds.
Krupin started in the food world at an early age. Raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., as a boy scout, he cooked for his fellow summer campers. As a staff sergeant in the Korean War, he prepared food for a mobile army surgical hospital unit.
He married Gloria in 1953. In 1968, they moved to Silver Spring with their two children. The family was affiliated with Beth Sholom Congregation.
In 1989, Mel and Gloria moved to Riderwood in Silver Spring, where he was the leader of the Jewish community. “He would make the Passover seder, latkes for Chanukah, and that was for 200, no 500, Jewish people,” his son said.
“When you put food and Jewish in Google, Mel Krupin comes up,” Jay Krupin joked. For a time, Mel Krupin wrote a column for the Washington Jewish Week, Table Talk.
“He was just a wonderful guy, a terrific spirit, always made you feel good,” his Jay Krupin said. Rather than eating out at a restaurant, “he made you feel like you were going to someone’s home.”
Grandson Stephen Krupin described Mel as “a mensch and a giant. [He] leaves a hole in our world, but we are enormously lucky to have had him. We’re filled with gratitude for all that he did for our family and our community, for serving his country in Korea, and for serving good food and good humor to generations of Washingtonians at his restaurants.”
Mel Krupin loved D.C. sports. In a 2017 interview with Andy Ockerhausen, Krupin said that on the Thursday after each football victory, he brought a cake with milk and ice cream to the stadium.
In 2016, he received a certificate of recognition for his status as a “True Icon” from Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot. The certificate praised Krupin for “your long-time commitment to building a better community through your charitable efforts and your time spent hosting and working with developmentally disabled adults at your restaurants.”
In addition to his wife, Gloria Krupin, he is survived by his children, Jay (Connie) Krupin and Patricia (Jeffrey) Rubin. He also is survived by grandchildren, Alison (Mark) Berger, Stephen (Clare) Krupin, Gregory Rubin and Robert (Candice) Rubin; and great-grandchildren, Kyle, Naomi, Ryan and Sophie.
Arrangements by Hines-Rinaldi Funeral Home in Silver Spring.