Jewish BBQ master, owner of Memphis Minnies, dies at 67

Bob Kantor, the founder and longtime owner of Memphis Minnie’s barbecue restaurant in San Francisco, died Dec. 9 after suffering a heart attack while scuba diving off the Caribbean island of Bonaire. He was 67.

 

Bob Kantor

Much of Kantor’s career in the restaurant business grew out of his Jewish heritage in New York. His father, Irving, an immigrant from Russia, was a kosher butcher; his mother, Minnie, was involved in organizing the Hebrew butchers’ union in New York. His first job was as a busboy in a kosher deli in Brooklyn, and later he drove the live poultry truck for a kosher chicken operation.

 

His idea to have “Pastrami Wednesdays” at Memphis Minnie’s harkened back to his youth. “It was far, far from the traditional Jewish approach to pastrami,” his son, Ben Kantor, said. “But it was his nod to his roots in New York and his upbringing with deli and Jewish foods.”

After moving west in 1970 and training at the California Culinary Academy, he was a chef at Saul’s Deli in Berkeley and then a manager in the Max’s chain. Later, as a consultant for a restaurant looking to add barbecue, he traveled around the country exploring barbecue joints, and in 1992, he decided to open his own place in a warehouse. It later moved to 576 Haight St.

“Early on, I toyed with the name ‘Honky Bob’s Brooklyn Jewboy BBQ. I thought I’d get it all up front and right out there,” Kantor told the blog BBQJew.com in 2010. “My friends talked me out of it.”

Memphis Minnie’s general manager, Tom Campbell, said the eatery will remain open, although Ben Kantor added the caveat, “That’s the plan for now. My stepmom and I and Tom need to have some conversations.”

Bob Kantor split time between San Francisco, traveling around the country in an RV and a home he owned in Asheville, N.C., where he was cremated this week. He is survived by his wife, Gail Wilson, and his son. A memorial or special event at the restaurant will be planned, Ben said. — andy altman-ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.