How Milton’s Deli in Del Mar Went from a Neighborhood Staple to a National Brand

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Welcome back to the Happy Half Hour! This week’s special guest is Barry Robbins, founder of Milton’s Delicatessen Restaurant in Del Mar. The New York–style deli is famous for its Reuben, matzo ball soup, homemade desserts, and breads; and it’s celebrating its 27th anniversary this year. You’ve most likely seen Milton’s multigrain bread and line of crackers in retailers like Costco: This national brand of baked goods was also launched by the deli. The company has a storied history, and we enjoyed learning about its origins and growth. Barry’s a Windy City native, and when he first moved here in the ’70s, he and his brother couldn’t find any deep dish pizza, so they started Chicago Brothers Pizza. They experimented with making frozen pizzas in the restaurant, and eventually distributed them nationally. Their pizza was one of the first frozen items sold at Costco (then called Price Club), and as many as 20 bakeries around the country were producing them—legendary Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda was even the company spokesperson! Barry sold Chicago Brothers Pizza and opened Milton’s in Del Mar in 1995, which he still operates today. When the restaurant was under construction, he teamed up with chef Claire Allison (who would go on to open Claire’s on Cedros in Solana Beach) to develop an in-house bread for the sandwiches. That became the famous multigrain bread that’s sold in stores, and they expanded with a line of crackers (the bread and crackers were acquired by another company a few years ago). Reflecting on 2020, Barry said it’s been difficult, but the deli has pulled through thanks to community support. And although he’s managed companies of over 500 employees, the past year has been “back to basics” because he’s the sole owner of the business—that includes washing dishes and doing whatever is needed to keep the doors open. The fridge in the front of the deli contains new products they’re testing out—right now they have a turkey pot pie and a banana pudding. Troy’s pro tip is to check this fridge out when you visit, because—like Milton’s pita chips and gluten-free crackers—they could be the next big thing! In Hot Plates, Juniper and Ivy has hired a new chef from New York’s Eleven Madison Park. El Camino in Little Italy is being turned into a new concept, and Rollin Roots and Doggos Gus (both former podcast guests) received grants from the California Restaurant Association. In Two People, $50, Barry said he enjoys the cashew chicken from Double Happiness in Del Mar. Troy’s pick this week is O’Brien’s Pub on Convoy, one of the first craft beer bars in San Diego, and their Birthday Bacon. David had brunch at Morning Glory in Little Italy and recommends the Japanese soufflé pancakes and lobster omelet with caviar (fancy!). Marie's pick this week is from her recent visit to Santa Barbara: the patatas bravas and paella at Loquita. Thank you for listening! As always, we want to hear from our listeners. Need a restaurant recommendation? Is there a guest you want us to book on the show? Let us know! You can call us at 619-744-0535 and leave a voicemail, or if you’re too shy, you can email us at happyhalfhour@sdmag.com. See you next week!

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