Del Mar icon inspires new eatery

Grandson of Zelig Camiel opens bistro

There's an interesting story – and a lot of history – behind the namesake of a new eatery in Del Mar. Greg Glassman opened the bistro-style restaurant about a month ago to commemorate his grandfather's longstanding history as a Del Mar resident and merchant. Glassman wants Zel's Delmar to be a village gathering place reflective of Zelig Camiel's commitment to community, neighbors and friends.

"I wanted Del Mar to have a place that is uniquely theirs," said Glassman, who owns and operates the restaurant with his fiance Jenn Powers. "We felt like we could bring North County a slice of something a little different."

Located on historic Highway 101 in the heart of the village, Zel's Del Mar offers a little bit of something for everyone, from seating options to menu choices.

The open-air patio allows patrons to watch people strolling up and down Camino Del Mar, which sometimes results in neighbors taking a few minutes to say hello. Inside the restaurant, guests can enjoy the enclosed dining area or hang out at the bar.

For those who have been around a while, gathering at Zel's is a chance to trade stories about the restaurant's namesake and the old days in Del Mar.

"What I've appreciated, what's been fun for me, is that right from the beginning the old-timers have come in and told me stories about my grandfather," Glassman said.

Zelig Camiel and his love of Del Mar

Glassman grew up in San Diego but often spent weekends in Del Mar with his grandfather: "As a teenager, he would tell us stories about his life, and he had a pretty interesting life."

In 1926, Camiel left his family behind in Poland and hopped on a freighter to journey to the U.S. Immigration quotas prevented him from entering the country, so he continued on to Havana, Cuba where he remained for two years. After crisscrossing South and Central America, Camiel joined a band of Eastern Europeans living in Tijuana.

He earned money selling gum to tourists and eventually worked his way up to chief croupier of the roulette section of the Aqua Caliente Resort and Gambling Casino.

From there, he relocated to Honduras where he owned and operated a clothing store with one of his brothers. In 1932, he married his American sweetheart Jeanne Klazkin in La Ceiba, before finally emigrating to the U.S.

Camiel and his family eventually settled in Del Mar, where he opened a liquor store on the corner of 15th Street and Camino Del Mar (what is now the Plaza). An outgoing and generous-spirited man, Camiel was known for assisting others, including helping European Jews fleeing World War II find employment, and raising money for Sea Grove Park.

According to family, one of his favorite pastimes was walking along Camino Del Mar, talking with merchants, listening to problems and offering advice.

When Camiel retired, he was given the title "unofficial mayor of Del Mar." After his death in 1987, he was honored with a garden bench on the lawn overlooking the sea at the end of 15th Street that reads "In Memory of Zel Camiel."

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