Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Benjamin Wagshal, 93, who for 50 years operated one of Washington's oldest family-owned
delicatessens, Wagshal's deli in Spring Valley, died Jan. 9 of heart disease at Sibley Memorial
Hospital. He was a resident of Washington.
Mr. Wagshal, who was born in Lawrence, Mass., came to Washington in 1925 -- the year his
father opened the deli at Ninth and G streets NW. He graduated from old Central High School
and received an accounting degree from Benjamin Franklin University.
In 1939, after a short time at 18th Street and Columbia Road NW, Sam Wagshal relocated
Wagshal's Delicatessen and Liquors to Spring Valley in Northwest Washington. The younger
Mr. Wagshal began as a clerk, making $15 a week, and over the years helped it become a
For five decades, he and his wife sold mounds of corned beef, smoked salmon and baklava to
famous and not-so-famous families. They were believed to be the only sandwichmakers to
have been to the White House numerous times, starting with John F. Kennedy's administration
and going through George H.W. Bush's administration.
He was the mover and shaker of the business said son Marc Wagshal of Rockville. He was behind the counter pretty much every day.
As Mr. Wagshal worked the counter and greeted customers, he called regulars by name and would give cookies to youngsters who
frequented the deli. The small store, with its faux wood paneling and faded posters on the walls, bustled with activity, particularly on
Saturdays and Sundays. It was a meeting place for residents, who stopped by for chicken and shrimp salad, cocktail cheese spreads
and homemade pastries.
Washington's political and economic elite were also among Mr. Wagshal's customers, as noted from the numerous photographs that lined
the walls. Among them were former presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford and former senator Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona. A
photograph of George H.W. Bush when he was a House member in the late 1960s is inscribed with admiration and respect and friendship.
Indicative of the relationships the family had built in the community, when the Wagshals sold the business in 1990, a customer gave them
a party, with 100 customers in attendance.
At the deli's closing, Mr. Wagshal said It was sad for us to leave our little store.
In retirement, he traveled and spent time at his beach home in Ocean City.
His wife of 65 years, Lillian Wagshal, died in 2004. A son, Dr. Eric Wagshal, died in 1999.
Besides his son Marc, survivors include another son, Dr. Alan Wagshal of Ofakim, Israel; a sister, Selma Saxe of Chevy Chase;
a brother, retired Air Force Col. Lester Wagshal of Sarasota, Fla.; 10 grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter
Lillian Wagshal, left, and
Benjamin Wagshal, right, help Bill
Fuchs, who bought the Spring
Valley deli from the Wagshal
family. Mr. Wagshal had run the
deli for 50 years, attracting
neighbors as well as presidents.
(1990 Photo By James A. Parcell --
The Washington Post