HELP SAVE Olsons Scandinavian Deli! This Mid City staple, which has served our community for 71 years–yes, 71 years–is in danger of closing its doors. Please consider donating to the GoFundMe campaign here: https://www.gofundme.com/1pbht8vp1c
Details about how the money will be spent are included in the GoFundMe link. For more about Olsons, see our profile below. And if you haven’t eaten there, please give them a try! We love local businesses and encouraging our community to support them!
Nestled at the top of the hill just West of Mid City LA favorites like Bloom, My Two Cents and Powerplant Superfood Café, you’ll find Olsons Scandinavian Deli & Café. While many local residents wander in asking when the deli opened, the truth is Olsons has been in Los Angeles since 1948. While the storefront and menus have evolved, Olsons has always remained committed to serving LA’s Scandinavian community, one which cherishes their culinary traditions and hopes to keep them alive.
Opened by a Swede with the last name Olson, the deli was soon sold to another Swedish Olson named Bertil and his Danish wife Helena. When they purchased the shop in the early 1950s, it sold groceries, gifts, Scandinavian food and also served as a restaurant, bakery and deli. This area on Pico was a hub of Scandinavian activity with a large, tight-knit Swedish community, and a Danish dance hall just across the street.
Camila Karlstromer, who came to LA from Sweden more than 20 years ago, has been running the café for current owner, Christian Kneedler, for the last three-and-a-half years, but she’s been a customer for two decades. She’s proud to work at one of the few Scandinavian cultural hubs in LA, but she’s thrilled to also introduce Scandinavian food to those who have never experienced it.
“People are very kind to us on Yelp. In the beginning, it was mostly Swedes who ate here, but via word of mouth, we have a much larger clientele, who want to try our food,” said Karlstromer. “We also get a lot of Korean and Japanese customers because, like us, they love fish, and many of their dishes, like kimchi, are pickled like ours.”
Olsons Deli’s most famous dish is the Shrimp Skagen Sandwich, which features Greenland shrimp, golden caviar, crème fraiche, dill, shallots and mayo served on a brioche bun. Very popular in Sweden, the owner has personalized this recipe, and the sandwich is now Buzzfeed approved. In fact, many Swedish customers come back from Sweden and declare that Olson’s Shrimp Skagen is better than it is at home.
Their second most popular dish is the Grav Lax Sandwich. Grav Lax is a Nordic dish of raw salmon cured in salt, sugar and dill. Olson’s Grav Lax is accompanied with red onions, cucumber, and horseradish or mustard dill sauce. Or it can be eaten for breakfast on toast with capers and a poached egg.
“We offer a little peek into Scandinavian food, and a certain way of eating. It’s pretty healthy. It’s not bland, but not spicy. We have kept Helena’s original recipes, and we use my mother’s recipe for the Swedish meatballs,” said Karlstromer. “For the Grav Lax, we cure the salmon in house. We’ve definitely added some newer dishes to keep everyone happy, but once people try the Scandinavian favorites, they come back for them.”
Olsons makes their own pickled herring and homemade liver pate, as well as Swedish pickles, including red cabbage, red beets and cucumber. They work with a Danish butcher, who makes potato sausage, as well as Medister sausage and Flaeskesteg, which is pork roast with a crispy rind. At Christmastime, they sell thousands of meatballs – get there early as they can never keep them in stock.
Olsons also has a huge selection of Swedish candy. If you’re brave, try the salted licorice. In terms of baked goods, they turn to Caroline Nilsson of Swedcakes, who is known for her Semla, a cardamom bun with almond paste, which is hugely popular during lent and only available at Olsons. People also love the Princess Cake, which is a traditional Swedish cake used for birthdays, baptisms and holidays, as well as the Saffron, or Lucia, buns.
Karlstromer hopes that all people, whether Scandinavian or not, feel at home at Olsons. She encourages patrons to chat with the Swedish and Norwegian staff, who are always willing to share stories and traditions, and who will surely welcome you to this nearly 70 year-old café.
More from Camila Karlstromer…
-Where are you from? I’m from Malmo, Sweden. I came here in 1995 with my sister, and I haven’t been back to Sweden since. I was here from London on a tourist visa, and it was supposed to be a three-month trip. We had very little money, but we met so many wonderful people, so we never left. I’ve always been involved with food, and I love feeding people, so now I cook almost everything at Olson’s.
-What do you love about LA? Your neighborhood? I live in West Adams, which is a little grittier than Mid City, but to me, it’s very European with a great mix of people. I’ve worked at Olson’s for almost four years, and this area in Mid City has changed tremendously. Now there are a lot of restaurants and cafes, but what’s great is that we are not in competition. There are also a lot of young families who like to try new things, which is good for us. It’s a nice little neighborhood. My goal is that Olson’s stays open in this neighborhood for another 75 years.
-Is there a restaurant, business, neighborhood favorite of yours that you would recommend? I love Powerplant down the street. I love their organic juices and ginger shots. They eat here, and we eat there. The people are so nice, and they absolutely love to talk and educate people about their great products and foods. I also have to mention Karen at Eco Dog Care. I rescue a lot of dogs, and she is always so helpful. I love her!
Photographer: Danielle Murray