It’s time I finally discuss the worst kept secret in Toronto’s delicatessen business. For months now Moe Pancer’s delicatessen, the beloved institution of North York, has quietly been for sale. Normally I’d keep you abreast of all these developments, but Lorne Pancer is a dear friend and this site, the book, hell…this whole deli community, wouldn’t exist without his support over the years. So I kept my mouth shut as Lorne looked around for a buyer.
First off, let me talk about Pancer’s a little. Around since the 1950′s when Moe moved from downtown with his wife, opened the deli just north of Wilson on Bathurst, and handed the keys over to his son Stan. The place really ought to have been called Stan Pancer’s, because he ran that place like a captain runs a ship, and is one of the people responsible for teaching Toronto about deli. Stan once said he was a man of “Five Meats”…he wasn’t a restaurant, he didn’t serve blintzes. Pancer’s kept it basic: corned beef, pastrami, salami, turkey, and bologna. Meat, mustard, and bread. Never cheese. Never stupid combos. It was a deli lover’s heaven.
When Stan passed away a few years back ownership split between the Pancer siblings: Lorne (who was a stockbroker), Michael (who lives in Florida), and Cindy (who lives over an hour outside the city). They all took turns behind the counter, but Lorne really fell into the role perfectly. The combination of sass, love for the food, love for the customers, and the looks of Stan instantly endeared customers to him. Even when the deli moved two blocks away a few years back, Lorne kept his base loyal and happy. Sure they kvetched, oh how they kvetched, but they did so every week and then returned again. It was family run deli as it should be.
But let’s face it folks. Deli is a tough business. You work on slim margins with difficult, testy products. Your customers, though loyal, demand so very much. The hours are long, the work is physically tiring, and you’ll more than often end up slicing your fingers on the cutting machine. Lorne never wanted to become his dad, but in many ways he did, and now he’d like to step away from the deli counter and do something a little less stressful.
It killed me when he said this, the last time I ate there, but can I blame him? Not really. Still, it’ll be hard to imagine Pancer’s without Lorne behind the counter. Sure Mario and Wilf will remain cutting, and Lori will bring the food, but three generations of family owned deli is a treasure that’s all too rare these days.
So why do I write this? Well friends, if there was ever a chance to save the deli, here it is. Pancer’s is for sale. For slightly more than a small bungalow in the same neighborhood you can have the business, the name, the clients, the cutting machines, the trademarked spices for corned beef and pastrami, the suppliers, hell…they’ll even throw in the pickles. In short, you could be Pancer’s, owning a very significant chunk of Toronto’s Jewish delicatessen history.
But let me just say this: Do this because you love deli and Pancer’s and everything it stands for. Do it because you sweat deli, breathe deli, and live for deli. Do it because you demand a challenge that reappears daily and you love to work until your clothes reek of sweating meat. Do it because you want to be a deli man.
If you come to this with the idea of being a passive investor, someone who can hang out with his lawyer friends in the back of the deli, feeding them for free, and turning a nice profit, please please please stay the fuck away. If you imagine buying Pancer’s and turning it around in a few years, don’t read any further. If your plan is to transform Pancer’s into a fusion restaurant or something resembling the Pickle Barrel, run. Run far. Because if you so much as alter anything in the Pancer’s formula I will hunt you like Great White Sharks hunt baby seals. Have you seen what happens to those seals? Yeah…that.
As I’ve tried to make abundantly clear over the course of my writing deli is not for the weak of heart. It is a long term commitment, a marriage to meat, and is not to be taken lightly. But if you are willing, and ready, and motivated, and able, than the opportunities seldom come better than this.
Those interested should contact Will Fischtein of Sunbelt Network
tel: (416) 228-1200
fax: (416) 224-5134