Levitt, deli owner, dies at 67

C. A.

January 23, 1995|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Sun Staff Writer

Charles A. "Chick" Levitt, whose Annapolis deli -- Chick and Ruth's -- became a home base for governors, legislators and the just-plain-hungry, died yesterday at Sinai Hospital of a heart attack after open-heart surgery. He was 67.

"His place had become an institution, a landmark of Annapolis," said former governor and deli regular Marvin Mandel. "Everyone wanted to see it, and it was because of Chick and his personality and his warmth and feeling for people.

"It was more than just a deli. It was like a second home to a lot of people," he said. "It's going to be hard to believe that he's not there."

Mr. Levitt and his wife, the former Ruth H. Cohen, who died in 1986, opened Chick and Ruth's Delly in 1965.

"It was nothing like it is today," said Mr. Levitt's son, Ted, who worked beside his father at the deli. "The menu was real limited. Through the years he just added things. He didn't even know how to work the slicer when he came here."

Before long, Mr. Levitt began to meet and become friends with some of the state and local politicians who stopped by for breakfast or lunch. During Spiro Agnew's term as governor in the late 1960s, Mr. Levitt began naming sandwiches after them.

"They had to be Dad's friends, someone he respected and liked what they were doing," Ted Levitt said.

"We never promoted it," he continued, but it took on a life of its own and became an attraction.

No. 11 on his menu, "The Donald Schaefer," is a kosher hot dog, melted cheese and bologna for $2.50, but it is now likely to be replaced by the "Parris Glendening."

The booth Mr. Mandel habitually used was labeled "The Governor's Office."

The sandwich gimmick eventually grew to include presidents, even if they hadn't actually visited. Every president since Lyndon B. Johnson was represented by steak and cheese with onions on a kaiser roll until a diet-conscious Bill Clinton sent word that his sandwich was to be a turkey on whole wheat.

But it wasn't the named sandwiches that drew the regulars, Mr. Mandel said. It was Chick.

"He always had a kind word, always had a smile," he said. "If there was problems, in his own quiet way and without any fanfare, he would be willing to pitch in and help those people who needed help.

"A lot of the political people came in, but it wasn't to do business. It was more to laugh and joke with Chick, and to relieve the pressures of what they were doing. He always had a little story to tell you, something to say to make you feel better."

Despite the attention the deli attracted, Ted Levitt said, it did not make a great deal of money. His father continued to work seven days a week and lived above the shop, although, since his wife's death, he had his dinners and spent his nights with a weekly rotation of relatives.

"He never owned a new car in his life," Ted Levitt said. "Last Father's Day I bought him a new car, a Cadillac. He cried and cried."

Mr. Levitt was born in Baltimore in 1927 and attended city public schools. He was 16 or 17 when he met Ruth Cohen at a Jewish Alliance dance and walked her home.

"That was it," their son said. "They never dated anybody else."

At 17 he joined the Navy and was sent to Okinawa in the Western Pacific. The couple wed when he returned after the war.

Mr. Levitt attended the Maryland Institute, College of Art, and worked a succession of jobs before he and a partner bought the Cozy Musical Bar at Baltimore and Poplar streets. After that was sold, he learned of the store in Annapolis, looked it over and bought it.

In addition to his son, Mr. Levitt is survived by two sisters, Rose Moss and Sally Schuster, both of Baltimore; two daughters, Natalie Goldstein of Baltimore and Iris Moore of Annapolis; seven grandchildren; and several nieces and nephews.

Services are planned for 2 p.m. tomorrow at Sol Levinson & Bros., 6010 Reisterstown Road in Baltimore.

The family suggested donations to the Ruth Levitt Memorial Fund, c/o the American Cancer Society, 8219 Town Center Drive, P.O. Box 82, White Marsh 21162-0082.

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