Save the Deli

Coleman’s May be Closed

Was in Toronto last weekend and heard some grim news. Coleman’s Deli, a North Toronto institutions for many many decades, is apparently closed. I heard from several sources in the industry, my calls to the deli went unanswered, and someone spotted a “Thanks for Your Patronage” sign on the door. Not good.

Apparently they’ve stopped taking deliveries of bread of Silverstein’s (the ultimate barometer of deli health), and with the economy as it is, this isn’t so much a surprise as a shock. Still, Coleman’s was beloved by many (more on that below), and Toronto is really losing an institution of deli eating.

I first came to Coleman’s via my cousins Eric and Gordon Katz, big beefy deli eaters who lived to consume Coleman’s titanic combinations like the Big Moe (1/2 lb of roast brisket with sliced onion and horseradish) and the Big Chief (1/2 pound of 2 deli meats on an onion roll). Eric used to say “Oh, David…Coleman’s” and then roll his eyes into the back of his head and drool like Homer Simpson. It was his Shangri-La.

Set in a strip mall below an office building at the most Jewish of Toronto intersections, Bathurst and Lawrence, Coleman’s was a decidedly neighborhood place. The walls were filled with photos, stories, and poems from customers, and there was a constant jostling of familiar personalities moving in and out of the place. They came for the soup, the sandwiches, and the pickles, but also for the feeling of embrace that the owners exuded.

Up until it closed (which I presume), those owners were Carol Silverberg and her daughter Jodi, but the history goes back well before them. Coleman’s began about half a century ago in downtown Toronto, by the Coleman family. One of the brothers, Blackie Coleman, had his own location, as did another, which was called Charlie C’s. When the brothers sold the business, it was purchased by Freddy Ulrich, who operated it from its current and final location. Carol used to hang out there as a teenager, and eventually took a job from Freddy as a hostess and cashier. There, she met a young busboy named Jerry Silverberg, and the two of them were in charge of delivering sandwiches to the illegal cards games going on at the Stork Club and Executive Club shvitz’s across the street, which had telephone lines directly into the deli.

Jerry and Carol eventually fell in love and married in 1976, soon after buying up Coleman’s from Ulrich. They expanded and renovated, and Carol set up a large catering division. Even though the neighborhood became more religious and Hasidic, they kept a loyal clientele, and when Jerry tragically died a few years back, over 400 people showed up at the funeral.

I think Coleman’s did a few things better than most in Toronto, though none as tasty as their pickled tongue. Great tongue is increasingly difficult to find in North American delis, let alone the hot variety. Carol once led me down to the deli’s basement kitchen, where Joe, her Portuguese born cook, was boiling freshly pickled tongues. He fished one out of the water, rubbed it with his hands to take off the outer membrane, and sliced a fat hunk off the rear end. It exploded in my mouth as a salty, garlic scented, bomb of fatty succulence, and remains one of the better tongues I’ve ever had the pleasure to kiss. I ate it on nearly every trip back (where I’d often meet friends), and I’ll miss it dearly.

Toronto will miss Coleman’s as well. Alef Hasholmen. Rest in Peace.

25 Responses to “Coleman’s May be Closed”

  1. Adam Fine Says:

    Coleman’s was always my favourite.

    -A

  2. Eric Katz Says:

    I hope this is not true. My family and I went there since 1970 when we moved to Toronto from Montreal. My cousins Rena and Max worked there and so there is so much family history there.

    Very sad deli news for this town.

  3. Gordon Katz Says:

    Sad news indeed. I remember fondly the last time I patronized this deli. My father and 2 brothers were also in attendance. After not being able to finish the “Big Moe”, I slumped against the backrest of the booth, and with self-disappointment and in a low tone, uttered, “too much meat”. At over 6ft and 200lbs, those words rarely pass my lips. I’m sorry to say that the great taste of the food at this fine deli also will not again pass my lips.

    I hope the owners fare as well as the fine fare at their establishment.

  4. Mark Elliot Says:

    I hope it’s not true!
    Coleman’s sponsored my radio show for years and it was never trouble coming up with great things to say about it!

  5. Chris Snooks Says:

    What happened? I’ve been going to Coleman’s for more than 25 years (started when I was 9 or 10) Everytime I was there it was busy even close to closing time. I will truly miss this institution.

  6. Andreea Anton Says:

    I cant believe that Colmanís has closed its doors:( I am very upset not only because I loved the food and the service but it seems like this city is slowly loosing some of its most important landmarks. The little bit of history we have is slowly slipping away. Its very sad.

  7. Larry Budd Says:

    I have lost one of my oldest and dearest friends. For almost 50 years Colemans was one of my life’s institutions. There will never be another place like it.

  8. Peter Stanleigh...one of many! Says:

    Losing Coleman’s is like losing a part of your body. It was part of growing up. It meant even more when my brother Allan and his best buddy Len Schafer both worked there.
    There will never be a place nor a generation like ours of the 50′s and 60′s.

  9. Cheryl Caplan Says:

    This was my home after school (Bathurst Heights) or even skipping school for french fries and gravy…… was introduced to my husband there……. had the rehearsal party here for my son’s wedding….. Ate, cried, laughed, partied thru many many years……I have been part of the life of Coleman’s as a sister/girlfriend for many a decade. It will live on in my heart forever. Though it was my neighbourhood restaurant of choice, it will always be close to my heart and soul. Deeply saddened by our loss.

  10. Tony Needer Says:

    Another victim of the Franchise Factor!
    Brown Derby in Montreal, Colemans & all the other great delis….Gone!
    The word, derived from German – Delicate Essen (Eat with great taste), today means have a “Big Mac”.
    I will miss the Pastrami, the closest Old Fashioned Montreal Smoked Meat that one could get in Toronto

  11. Todd Goldsbie Says:

    Though I moved out of the neighbourhood many decades ago, Colemans was the base of my social circle in my mid-teen years. From parties downstairs to travelling to California with Jerry, Larry & Sid, it was our “Mel’s Diner”. It was tragic to lose Jerry; Carol kept his spirit alive.
    Another institution has gone and will never be replaced.

  12. Chris Fyvie Says:

    Some of the best “sleeper” ribs in town… say it ain’t so!

  13. Gail (Silverberg) Hall Says:

    Yes, it’s hard to believe that Coleman’s is now gone and even harder to accept as I live out of town! Spent many a weekend there during high school. Great memories of Freddie catering the Christmas rush and my brother Jerry doing everything from running deliveries to the Executive Club, to taking cash to eventually becoming the owner. He and Carol did a great job carrying on a tradition that was a landmark in Toronto. The best meat sandwiches and knishes (my mother’s recipe). Now what am I going to do when I have an urge for a knish — I’m going to have to dig out the recipe and make them. But Carol, they won’t be as good as the ones Joe made, hot out of the oven and into our pockets….There will always be great memories of times shared and of great food. Carol and family, thanks for these memories.

    love

    Gail

  14. Elliot Rosenberg Says:

    Holy Cow. For 42 years on my life this was the best Deli in the city. It was here I showed my son what a Reuben ought to be. Sad news.

  15. A true fan Says:

    I wish I had the talent to produce a good poster for the simpsons 20th anniversary contest. I love the simpsons. But at least there are others (as I see here) that share an interest still.

  16. Jenn Says:

    With it being such an institution, I wish that we could have had a final “hurrah” for this wonderful restaurant. Many people shared many memories, so it’s sad that we didn’t get to hear about it before the doors shut. :( I would have loved to have ordered one last corned beef sandwhich. :(

  17. phil James Says:

    WoW!!!! What a shock. Went to the door and Bingo locked and nothing left inside. I have been going there for too many years to remember, and I will miss it . It was a great spot with some great food, and I wish Carol and Jodie success in life,s journey. Perhaps we shall meet again over the counter. Love Phil James

  18. Doron Says:

    I am in shock. I was sitting at my Passover Sedar tonight and someone mentioned it had closed. i didn’t believe it said it wasn’t possible. I worked at Coleman’s for years when I was a kid. I have a lot of great memories from there and a few friends (that I haven’t spoken to in a while since I moved to California). Wow I am still in shock. To Carol and the kids good luck in all your adventures and I hope all is well.
    Love Doron

  19. Steve Says:

    It is unbelievable that this wonderful Toronto institution has closed its doors. I began going to Colemans when I was just a kid of maybe 8 or 9 and I brought both of my children. What will be left of Toronto’s delis after this-all of the greats are nearly gone. Red Pancers, ALL of the Coleman’s, Fat Arts, Shopsy’s (what is open now is a corporate ghost) , the Original Switzers (a new one just opened-dont know if it is the same). All we have left now is Moe Pancer’s.

  20. David B Says:

    It really is sad, I just found out today when I drove by it and saw there was a fast food chain restaurant in it’s place, it is a real shame. Coleman’s was one of Toronto’s best deli’s and my personal favorite in the city. I’m guessing it has to do with the economy, but they had a lot of regulars, does anyone know exactly why they closed?

  21. David B Says:

    By the way Steve, we still have Katz’s too (at Dufferin near Wilson).

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