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Jean Cocchiaro, a fixture at Canter’s Deli on Fairfax Avenue since 1956, passed away on Monday at the age of 79. She had been suffering from cancer that had reccurred after being in remission for more than five years, according to her brother, Marvin Lazar.
Cocchiaro was well-known and liked among regulars at the deli, many of whom specifically requested her tables, said Jacqueline Canter, who runs the restaurant with her brother, Marc.
“She worked here for more than fifty years and was very passionate about it. She took pride in what she did and would show up an hour or two earlier than she needed to,” Canter said. “She would suggest to customers what they should have, kind of like a Jewish mother. Everybody really liked her, and she became friends with all of her customers.”
Canter added that Cocchiaro also knew her customers’ regular orders, and would often have their coffee or food on the table before they were seated.
“She was a remarkable waitress with an incredible memory and a great sense of humor,” Canter added. “She really took pride in what she did.”
Cocchiaro was a Chicago native but lived for decades in Torrance. Lazar added that she loved working at the deli and looked forward to traveling there each day. He said Cocchiaro had a “matter-of-fact” sense of humor, and often joked with people she liked.
“She was a very independent woman, she never bothered anybody for anything,” Lazar said. “Canter’s was her home. That was her family.”
Canter said Cocchiaro was somewhat of a celebrity at the deli. She was featured in Los Angeles Magazine’s restaurant issue in 2001, and appeared in episodes of ”Roseanne” and “Geraldo”. In addition, she posed for a photograph that appeared Playboy in 1981 — fully-clothed, Canter added. Her regular customers included Hollywood personalities such as producers Mel Brooks and Michael Mann.
“Michael Mann would sit in her station for hours, before he became famous, and work on his writing. For a waitress, that is a big thing, because you may have only three tables,” Canter said. “Shotgun Tom Kelly, from K-Earth radio, was also one of her regulars.”
Canter said Cocchiaro worked between three and five-days-a-week as a waitress and one night as a manager. Lazar said a little over five years ago, Cocchiaro was diagnosed with lung cancer and had a lung removed, after which the cancer went into remission.
“Those were a pretty damn good five years,” Lazar said.
Within the past couple of months, the cancer returned and she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, Lazar added. Cocchiaro stopped working at the deli a few weeks ago, and never told anyone about the cancer. She is survived by her sons, Michael and Danny Trager.
A memorial and celebration of Cocchiaro’s life will be held on June 16 at 11 a.m. at the deli, 419 N. Fairfax Ave.
For information, contact Jacqueline Canter at (323)651-2030.
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