MUSEUM OF JEWISH HERITAGE
Second Avenue Deli
Is Kosher In The Rye
Story and Photos by Tim Boxer
O mark the 50th anniversary of the legendary Second Avenue Deli, the Museum of Jewish Heritage gathered an eclectic group from salami society to expound on the virtues of this gastronomical haven at Second Avenue and Tenth Street in Manhattan’s East Village.
Steve Cohen said that working there as general manager for 22 years was like Damon Runyon: “Everybody has an Abie story.”
Alex Witchel, a New York Times Style section scribe, said Abe Lebewohl, founder of this venerable pastrami palace, knocked on her door 11 years ago to make a delivery. Her older son had his bar mitzvah and Abe insisted on delivering the food himself.
“I remember thinking this is the closest we’re ever going to get to Santa Claus.”
Her husband Frank Rich, The Times’ associate editor, said he grew up in Washington, D.C., “the most gentile town in America.”
Jack Lebewohl at dedication of memorial park across the street.
“Second Avenue is the last practitioner of the art – the best deli in the world.” This from a man who never had salami and eggs until he was 40.
Drew Nieporent, who operates trendy eateries in Soho and Tribeca, talked about Abe’s futile trip to Moscow to establish a branch of his kosher deli.
He came for an appointment with Boris Yeltsin. He waited. And waited. Finally the secretary opened the door to see if he boss was ready. Abe looked in and saw vodka bottles all over the office. There was the prime minister of Russia asleep in his chair.
Comedian Judy Gold was full of questions, like it was Passover night.
“If you’re wearing a toupee, do you still need a yarmulke?”
She had a question for Diane Kassner, who’s been a deli waitress for 18years: “How is the stuffed breast of veal served?”
“On a plate,” Kassner replied.
Second Avenue Deli
Abe’s daughter Sharon, who operates the restaurant with Abe’s younger brother Jack, recalled a gasoline shortage in the ‘70s. “Most restaurants couldn’t afford to make deliveries, but my father delivered his food by horse and buggy.”
Art D’Lugoff, former owner of the Village Gate, described Abe as a whirling Dervish in the kitchen.
“He was too trusting, though. He trusted people because he loved people. He should have had a guard in his van.”
Eight years ago Abe was shot and killed in his van on the way to the bank. The murderous robbers were never found.