A “Big Wonderful” Lifeby Nikki Salvo February 4, 2014
Neal Akin is on top of the world. The year 2013 brought “big, wonderful changes” for him and his family: he and his wife, Natasha, celebrated their second wedding anniversary, welcomed their first child, and he saw his real estate company grow faster than ever before. Son of Debi and Zvika Akin of famed local Jewish deli D.Z. Akin’s, Akin was born and raised in San Diego, and plans to never leave. Like his love of food, passion for the city is in his blood.
Akin is a gregarious, outgoing guy who seems to know someone wherever he goes. (When this fact was brought up, an acquaintance walked in, almost on cue!) This fondness for people, our city, and appreciation for architecture and design is what propelled him into the real estate industry, and he is proud to say he helped 26 families purchase and sell their homes in 2013.
“I realized that when my clients are the focus,” he says, “the sky’s the limit.”
His approachable quality and work ethic are a testament to his humble history. His family’s legacy here in San Diego can be traced back to his maternal grandparents, Ethel and Bernard Epstein. A traveling salesman, Bernard moved from Brooklyn to California in the late 1940s, and Ethel followed. Once they married, they attempted to settle in La Jolla, but, like many families at the time, were shut out beacause they were Jewish, and instead made their home in the Granite Hills area. Longtime San Diego residents may remember the Brick Shirt House, the retail shop with several locations, founded by Bernard and his son, Steven in the 1970s. He and his wife also had success with a clothing manufacturing company, Squire of California.
Akin and Natasha named their son Brody after Grandpa Epstein. (They went with the name over Bernie, who would end up “just reminding people of a dead guy in a boat,” Akin quips, in reference to the classic 1980s comedy “Weekend at Bernie’s.”)
This penchant for business was shared by the other side of the family as well. Akin’s father, Zvika, born in Israel, came to the United States when he was 15, and began working at a Los Angeles butcher shop, which he soon purchased with the help of his father. He met his wife, Debi, there when she came to buy chicken livers at the suggestion of a family friend who wanted the two youngsters to meet. In 1980, just three weeks after Neal was born, the couple established the local mainstay D.Z. Akin’s, named San Diego’s best Jewish deli time and time again.
As a child, Akin attended San Diego Hebrew Day School and later, Torrey Pines High School. He feels fortunate to have been educated by Rabbi Arthur Zuckerman, who made it clear it is okay to be who one wants to be, says Akin, and “not follow everything by the book.” He was a scientist, and he had a huge impact on who I am today – a cool, kooky guy.”
At age 18, Akin participated in the March of the Living, which included traveling to Poland, where he remembers local children outside the walls of concentration camps taunting his group. The next leg of the trip consisted of a week in Israel during the country’s 50th anniversary. He recalls being in Jerusalem watching jets flying overhead in the formation of a “50 to celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s 50th anniversary.” That “pivotal experience” was one he’d never forget, he says, one that left him with a sense of pride, and a desire to “perpetuate the line … there aren’t many of us left.”
Having worked every position at his family’s deli since age 13, he found he was “not a good line cook, a terrible waiter, but I was great at the business aspects, and with people.” And although he admits he was never the best student, he spent three years at the University of Arizona, where he focused on psychology and family studies. With education and work experience under his belt, he “hit the ground running.” This is not a man who would rest on the laurels of his parents; he was ready to start a career. He began reading books and seeking his own real world, “hands-on education.”
Being descendant of a small family business, he was eager to see how a large corporation worked, one with a strong reputation for customer service, and found work at Nordstrom. “I had a plan,” says Akin, “and it was to work my way up.” This is where he met his wife, so, as he says, “it a was two-for-one!”
He advanced within the company and enjoyed his time there, but Akin is “not very good at being complacent,” so it became evident that he needed to move up and on. He began studying real estate, and July 2007 he embarked on building his business. “Everyone said I was mad,” he says. “If everyone’s going one way, I go the other way.” But the instability of the housing market didn’t deter him from spending his entire savings, acquiring financial assistance that lasted all the way until he made his first transaction, and after 11 months, sold his first home. In late 2008 he came up with new ideas in the face of changing economic trends, and along with an investor, delved into flipping houses. Today he is a Realtor with Coastal Premier Properties, and has been so successful he recently hired an assistant to help him better service his clients. He is constantly setting goals, and plans to soon be among the top 20 agents in Carmel Valley.
Along with career success, Akin is enjoying his first time as a father, and looks forward to sharing his loves with his son as he grows up. His devotion to San Diego’s “communities within communities, the food and beer scene,” and his love for people, his family and his work are all driving forces in his life. When asked what the future holds, he says, “Going to the moon! Great experiences.” He will indeed be a busy man in the New Year.