Save the Deli

Who Wants to Buy Pancer’s?



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

12 Responses to “Who Wants to Buy Pancer’s?”

  1. Marilla Wex Says:

    Boo! I heard the news from Wex and am gutted Lorne is leaving – the end of (another) era.

  2. Daniel Sax Says:

    This is truly a tragedy in the making. I pray for its salvation. The sweet moist smoked turkey has no match. The baby beef is to be worshiped. The service – angry but perfect. Having never eaten at Caplansky’s I can say this is the greatest deli in all of the GTA. It is positioned in a fertile deli market oozing with old jews, a military base, and as displayed by the picture, hungry firemen. I have yet to be in pancers and seen it quiet or empty, even during off peak hours. It is the perfect example of what a good deli should be. In Toronto we are at the mercy of a new generation without the necessary appreciation for well brined and smoked meats. Surely one of these lawyers, accountants, doctors or recently fired investment bankers has to realize that there is life beyond Bay street. There is joy in stinking of cooked meat and putting a smile on a fresser’s face…. Clearly one of you can make the pro forma work. You could be king. Think of all the bubbies that would want to set you up with their grand-daughters… your cheeks would be begging for mercy. One thing was left out of the article: the acquisition price is nominal, but the value is priceless. For those of us who live in cities devoid of deli, I beg of you don’t let this beloved institution die.

  3. Al Hunter Says:

    Oh No! This is really sad news.
    Maybe we can push Wolfie’s to have extended hours to help cover some of the loss.
    Caplansky’s is fantastic, but it’s a major journey into the city for us folks up here in the Bathurst Manor area.
    This will be a devastating blow to Toronto deli lovers that we may never be able to recover from.

  4. Jim R. Says:

    We came up from Hartford, and Pancer’s was the first deli we visited. Toronto may not have the deli soul of Montreal and NYC…but Pancers is a darned good deli.

  5. Judy Says:

    this is my first time to the site and I hope to gosh Pancers does not close. I have been going there since before I was born. I love the corn beef and all the servers.

    I went to Caplansky’s last night in Toronto and wow was it horrible, The meat had so much smoke, I felt like a licked an ashtray. the slaw was dry and the gravy (don’t get me started), at the end of my meal a lovely smell of sevage just confirmed what I already knew, This is not Pancers..

    I hope someone keeps Pancers like the old days!

  6. Save The Deli » Blog Archive » Pancer’s is Staying in the Family Says:

    [...] Lorne Pancer told me that he was selling the family business, and putting the deli up for sale. I wrote about it back in October here. As I said [...]

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