“I’m straight outta Stockholm,” Christian Kneedler says from inside Mid-City's Olsons Scandinavian Delicatessen, which he purchased from longtime Swedish-American owner Bertil Ohlsson two years ago.
The newly revived, ornate space (which took most of the last two years to complete) is a side project for the affable Swede, who has spent a decade as the maitre d' at iconic West Hollywood restaurant Dan Tana’s. At the red sauce–slinging, checkered-tablecloth institution, Kneedler learned a formative hospitality lesson: “Give the people what they want.” That philosophy, coupled with his experience as the former co-owner of hot spots like C Bar and Liquid Kitty, prepared him to give new life to the dusty old Swedish deli. The process took a while (Kneedler still worked a full-time job), but the new Olsons is finally ready for its closeup.
Olsons, a tiny market on Pico east of Fairfax, opened in 1948 and didn't much change for decades. Kneedler recalls visiting the deli when he first arrived in Los Angeles 20 years ago. "It was run-down, with very little product," he says. "They didn’t really serve food.” The few items they did sell, however, were authentically Swedish, flown in from the motherland. So it still felt like home."
Kneedler knew he wanted to open his own restaurant and was frustrated by the fact that the only place in Los Angeles to get a proper plate of Swedish meatballs was at a cafe inside Ikea. Olsons, with barely enough crackers, canned fish and Christmas soda to fill half its shelves, was soon his. Kneedler excitedly describes his concept for the rebirth of Olsons: “a Scandinavian restaurant the American palate could appreciate.”
The timing was right, too. While Olsons' stretch of Pico went largely ignored for the last half-century, the pulse is back, and Mid-City is a dining destination on the rise, with Paper or Plastik Cafe and My Two Cents drawing eager eaters.
Olsons' Scandinavian-style sandwiches debuted earlier this year. There’s also toast skagen (shrimp salad salted with whitefish caviar, which Kneedler calls “the lobster roll of Scandinavia"), dill-cured gravlax and of course, meatballs, served with beet salad, lettuce and crispy onions.
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A side room features 70 varieties of binned bulk candy. In the mood for Romerska bågar (orange-flavored milk chocolate slices)? How about häxvräb (salted black licorice)? They have it all, including the ubiquitous Swedish fish. Olsons also stocks obscure imported products such as Kungsörnen waffle mix and Odense chocolate almond paste. It's like a Swedish Joan’s on Third, offering a new slice of Scandinavia.
Olsons Scandinavian Delicatessen, 5660 W. Pico Blvd., Mid-City; (323) 938-0742; olsonsrestaurantlosangeles.com.