Save the Deli

Death of a Deli: Rascal House

The historic Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House, an institution in what is now Sunny Isles Beach since 1954, is closing its doors. Pictured here is waitress Lorraine Willow wiping tears from her eye thinking about leaving her job of 22 years.

What I found most disheartening about last weekend’s death of Miami’s famous Rascal House was what little public outcry there was in the area before it happened. I searched in vain for articles or editorials lambasting Jerry’s Famous Deli’s decision to first turn the Rascal House into condos, and then into a luxury supermarket…all to no avail. I think using the words “death” to describe the end of a deli’s life is appropriate. To us lovers of deli, they are more than simply food service businesses. Because they contain the warmth of family, with a vibrant, organic feel, they are more like living creatures than buildings. We feel their hot, garlicky breath, we kiss their meaty lips, and we feel their pains. A business closing is sad, but death we feel in the heart.

So as the final danish went out the door, it’s nice to read two articles on the last grand dame of Florida’s delis closing.

From the Miami Herald’s “Death of a deli: Rascal House closing for good”

The last of the old-school New York-style delis, specializing in hearty Jewish fare, was built by Wolfie Cohen in 1954. A seemingly eternal staple at Collins Avenue and 172nd Street — outliving legendary delis like Pumperniks, Wolfie’s and Corky’s — it thrived for decades. Hungry diners lined up around the building, recalled Michael Scheck, 69, an Aventura retiree who first visited the restaurant in 1956, when he was 17.

”You couldn’t get in, you had to wait,” Scheck said. “I was told this was the busiest restaurant in the world.”

Busy it was, and for good reason. It wasn’t just the oversize portions, the no-nonsense waitresses or the comforting ambience, like the framed poster of Jackie Gleason, the fading black-and-white photos of the beach and the wooden counter where familiar faces gathered day after day. What most diners yearned for were the heaps of food that were handed out with every meal: rolls, pickles, muffins — and, in years past — coffee cakes and an assortment of pastries, including five different types of danishes. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

And a further look into the problem from the Sun-Sentinel’s Michael Mayo “Dying delis: With Rascal House’s demise, another South Florida landmark gone”

“You didn’t have to be Jewish to love the place. My very goyisha father-in-law, a thoroughbred trainer from Ohio, thought the corned beef was to die for.

Changing times and changing demographics brought the end to the Rascal House. Jerry’s Famous Deli, a California-based restaurant chain, bought the deli a while ago and now plans to convert it to their Epicure Market brand.

That goes better with the Trumpification of the north Miami-Dade barrier island, with its mega high-rise condos and international clientele.

And so goes another slice of South Florida tradition. The original Wolfie’s in South Beach is long gone. So, too, the original Pumpernik’s that once stood across from Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach. A Wolfie’s in Boca Raton also closed a few years ago.” CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST


15 Responses to “Death of a Deli: Rascal House”

  1. Michael Says:

    Is there a deli we can go to to sit shiva? Its hard to follow with the traditional “we should only see each other at simchas” because it is hard to to find a new great deli where we can celebrate.

  2. drbehavior Says:

    It’s really too bad that Wolfies suffered such an ignominious fate at the hands of Tribal Members no less.
    However, if there’s anyone in northern California – near Sacramento/San Francisco that would like to get involved in opening a brand new Deli Catering (Wholesale Business) then please let me know. Maybe we here in California can compensate for the loss in Florida. My family’s been in the food business for almost a hundred years in Toronto and now that I’m retired from Brain Research/Behavioral Science I’m going top follow in their footsteps. Let me know if you’re interested. Howard

  3. Paul Says:

    We were at Rascal House for Closing Weekend. We had dinner on Friday and lunch on Sunday. It was, both literally and figuratively, like night and day. Lunch on Sunday was packed (after the article in Saturday’s Miami Herald), but the place was sadly slow on Friday. As we waited in line on Sunday (Parties of 2), I couldn’t help but wonder where all these people had been over the last 2 – 3 years. If the crowds had remained steady and strong (like the old days), maybe the Starkmans wouldn’t have felt the need to close. We have become the society of Shock and Awe, only paying attention to the tragedy and carnage.

    There were two things that saved the weekend. First, it was heartening to see that people were talking to each other about their feelings and memories of Rascal House. We talked to numerous people, both locals and visitors, who had great memories of Rascal House. In line and at the table, we shared our stories. And many people brought cameras, and were taking lots of pictures. But, most importantly, the food was great! The Stuffed Cabbage and Beef Stew were still awesome.

    Alas, Rascal House is gone, as so many other places that were a part of the traditions that made South Florida so unique. Life goes on, and Jason Starkman has stated that the new Epicure will have many of the old dishes from Rascal house, and will have some sort of dining area there. But it will never be the same.

  4. Brian Says:

    I was very sad to hear that Rascal House closed down. I’m coming down to the South Florida area next week, from New York. The first place I was going to go was to Rascal House and have my 1/2 whitefish salad sandwich with a bowl of chicken soup. After that, have a piece of cherry crumb pie with coffee. I was really looking forward to it.

    Even with the Sunny Isles Beach area physically, economically, and socially changing, the Rascal House sign on Collins @ 172nd Street always gave me comfort in knowing that somethings will stay the same.

    Thanks for the memories, Rascal House.


  5. Lewis Says:

    I don’t live very close to Rascal House but I made sure to drag out my brother and his daughter and my mom out for one last bite. theres still some pretty good deli’s in Miami Beach but you have to look for them…down by where I live, coral gables area theres some decent places but they dont have the classic feel of Rascal House.

  6. Carol Lopez Says:

    I visit Florida once a year and a meal at the Rascal House was a must do. I was shocked and saddened last week to see what has come of this wonderful home away from home. I wish I had known it was going to close, I would have made the trip earlier, to be able to go here one last time. I can honestly say, that was my only reason for coming to the Miami area. The Bayside Marketplace has become such a let down too.

  7. Save The Deli » Blog Archive » Death of a Deli Fan Says:

    [...] know, I write an awful lot about the death of delis, and occasionally the death of deli men, but I’m especially sad today to write about the [...]

  8. Golden Beach Native Says:

    When the Rascal House opened in 1953, my Dad said that Wolfie Cohen made everything on the menu that day FREE. My Dad said that there was a line to get into the restaurant that stretched literally down to Sunny Isles Boulevard . . and they had been packed ever since.

  9. Save The Deli » Blog Archive » Buzz builds in Israel and Miami, plus a great new book and Deli Heaven relaunches Says:

    [...] those who’ve read about the death of the Rascal House on this blog, that’ll come as no [...]

  10. Luisa Says:

    It’s sad to hear that Rascal House closed down, however we just pray that it could open again in the near future.

  11. Luisa Says:

    Well, what else can we do but pray that it could open again in the near future.

  12. Luisa Says:

    I understand how the customers of Rascals House feel at the moment since it is not easy to lost a business in a single snap.

  13. Shabbat with Soul Clap and Wolf+Lamb « Heeb Magazine Says:

    [...] bungalow in Miami Shores, a quiet neighborhood far from South Beach, Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House (RIP), and these guys.  My hosts for the evening, lying shirtless in a king-sized bed with laptops and [...]

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