“Everything is going to be wonderful.”
Those six words were a phrase often dispensed by Herbert A. Caplan. No matter the situation, no matter the challenge, Caplan always had a knack for being the eternal optimist. It was rare to see him without a smile.
Kindness, generosity and that res-ounding positive attitude are what propelled Caplan through a fulfilling life that centered on two elements that routinely intertwined: his family and his work. Owner of the renowned Caplan’s Delly, which became a second home to he and his family, and many loyal customers for more than 35 years — Caplan passed away June 26. He was 84.
While running a restaurant is a business filled with ups and downs, the deli was always a constant source of pride for Caplan. He loved being able to interact with his customers on a daily basis. He also relished the time spent there with his family; his wife Roz (nee Yaffee) of 59 years, his three sons, Elliott, Jerry and Larry, and countless other relatives, cousins,
in-laws, all of whom worked in various capacities at the deli throughout the years.
Caplan also cultivated a massive extended family: his employees. As the boss, Caplan functioned as the deli’s authoritative voice, but at the end of the day he made sure to let his staff know how much he cared about them. White or black, Jew or gentile — it didn’t matter — if a person was a committed member of the business, Caplan treated him or her with utmost respect. To many, he wasn’t just “Mr. Caplan” or “Herb,” he was “brother” or “dad.”
When Caplan passed away, dozens of employees returned for their former boss’s funeral and expressed to his immediate family how much he meant to them.
“They looked at him as such a mentor growing up, and they remembered it,” Jerry Caplan said.
Caplan was born in 1928. The youngest of nine siblings, he grew up on Pulaksi Street in West Baltimore. As a youth, he could routinely be found playing in Easterwood Park. Despite being “the baby” he was always the one organizing family get-togethers.
“He was like the patriarch, the rock of the family,” Roz Caplan said. “He kept them all together.”
A 1946 graduate of Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School,Caplan worked in the printing business before being drafted into the army in 1951, during the Korean War. He served for two years and earned a Bronze Star for saving the life of a fellow solider. (Later on in life, Caplan passionately spearheaded organizing reunions for his infantry unit.)
After returning from the war in 1953 (and marrying Roz soon after), Caplan opened Mr. Chips, a sub shop at Caroline and Madison streets. Ten years later, he partnered with Seymour Bridge to open Bridge and Caplan’s Delly on Liberty Road — then a one-lane street nestled in a wooded area. Soon after, Caplan became the sole owner of the restaurant and altered the name as such. He would go on to open two other Caplan’s Delly locations on Woodlawn Drive and in Rutherford Industrial Park. The original location closed in 1998.
Caplan was a firm believer in the customer always being right. And, he wasn’t just an owner, he was an ambassador. Caplan enjoyed greeting guests at the door. He ushered hundreds upon hundreds of kids behind the counter for a free cookie. If a customer complained about a sandwich, Caplan would replace it with a new one — even if the original meal was mostly finished anyway.
And, it wasn’t too long before the Caplans couldn’t go anywhere without being recognized.
“Baltimore is the only place he knew,” Roz said. “That’s where he grew up and that’s where he lived, and somebody always knew him. We couldn’t sneak away.”
Caplan’s kin say that between family and work, there wasn’t much time for personal hobbies. However, he did love to travel, whether it was a road trip in the car with the kids or a cruise around the Caribbean with his wife. No matter where he was, he was smiling, enjoying life.
Said Roz: “He was just loved by all.”
Herb Caplan was also the loving father of Elliott (Caroline Harris) Caplan, Jerry (Shari) Caplan and Larry (Wendy) Caplan; devoted brother of Robert (Julie) Caplan and the late Marie Berman, Naomi Walman, Patsy Chernikoff, Vivian Bergerson Fine, Ruth Friedman, Aaron Caplan and Irene Becker; cherished grandfather of Rachael Caplan, Benjamin (Missy) Caplan, Philip (Alanna) Caplan, Ashley Caplan, Blake Caplan, Lindsay Caplan, Aaron R. Caplan, Alex Caplan, Michael Bakama, Victoria Goldberg, Joel Goldberg and Alison Goldberg. Also survived by two loving great-grandchildren and loving sister-in-laws and brother-in-laws.