By Jocelyn Arceo, September 19, 2019.
Photo Courtesy of Christina Gaul
DOWNEY - It all began with one man named Henry in 1959. Uncle Henry’s Deli, located at 7400 Florence Avenue, has seen several shifts in appeal as they have navigated their way through their family-owned business for the last 60 years. What started as a simple meat market has evolved into not only a sandwich shop and previous catering stop, but a bustling hub home to 104 different tasty, craft brews. Having begun as Henry’s Meat Market, the shop had only one sandwich available at the time - called “The Original” - which is what Henry’s nephew, George Gaul Jr., used to kick off his own spin on the shop. Christina Gaul, sister to the current owner, George Gaul III, and daughter to previous owner, George Jr., mentioned that with each change in ownership, from Henry to George Jr. to George III, each brought with them a change in transition to better fit the evolution of the times around them. For instance, George Jr. capitalized on “The Original” by expanding the shop into a deli, complete with tables and chairs out front that allowed for a sit-down situation never offered before. Her brother, George III, did something similar, but instead of sandwiches he capitalized on the shops original, very few, options for beer on tap. Starting off with the simple Bud Light and Budweiser of the time, George III found an interest in brewing which led to the massive beer wall holding 104 different taps to choose from that guests see today. “When a new person comes in, they can’t do what the old person did,” Christina said. “It wasn’t my brothers thing to do catering, and it wasn’t my dad’s thing to continue with the meat market. As the new generations come in, they add special touches of their own.” Referring to this as a form of “new-blood,” Christina said that although changes have come with each owner, they have maintained the same family-owned atmosphere throughout each transition, only solidifying the love for their family while still allowing for individual innovation. Growing up, Christina and George III spent much of their childhood at the deli, from showing up after school and doing homework to staying late into the night, watching cartoons as their dad was busy with 24-hour catering. “There’s memories of us celebrating birthdays here, or staying here while my dad was doing catering just watching cartoons as if it were our living room,” Christina said. “There are a lot of fond memories, it's so intertwined with our childhood, even the hardships.” This family atmosphere, coupled with being present throughout the operation of the day-to-day business, is what Christina described as a crucial facet to their long-standing business of 60 years. “You have to stay in touch, we’re definitely a part of the business and the day to day operation,” Christina said. “Nobody is going to work as hard as we do because it’s our family business.” However, Christina stated that it is the close family ties of the business that stand as both a pro and a con, especially while her and her brother were still growing up. She mentioned that working with family means no breaks from them, a lot of discipline and not letting things get too personal. “We want it to be personal, that’s what makes it so strong,” Christina said. “But we’re constantly being tested.” Her and George III are twins, which she said meant they were going through a lot of similar life experiences that may not have been easy to deal with when the two of them knew exactly how to push each other's buttons, all while having to grow up right in front of their customers. “It was challenging, but I think we’re definitely better communicators and have higher emotional intelligence because of it,” Christina said. “It can be hard, working with people that you love, sometimes you just need space from them.” Julian Arellano, an employee of the deli for around three to four years, said that the deli has provided him an experience in which he feels as though his job is no longer just a job, but it’s fun, where everyone’s word matters. He mentioned his past work experience where he described everyone as being on autopilot, with an agenda in place and automated responses in place. At the deli, he said there is a much more intimate, homey feeling that is heavily reliant on a community atmosphere. “I want the customers to feel like this is their spot in their neighborhood community,” Arellano said. “At least four times a week, a customer leaves saying they’ll come back.” To celebrate 60 years, Uncle Henry’s Deli is throwing a 60th Anniversary Party from Sept. 26 to 29. The ticketed event offers guests the chance to experience the changes that George III brought to the deli with his interest in brewing. Tickets can be purchased on their website or in the store for $45, which include a five ounce pour of Uncle Henry’s collaboration with Absolution Brewing Co., eight pours of any choice beer from their various tap choices, a 60th anniversary glass, a four pack of the collaborated beer to go, and one raffle ticket.