Save the Deli

Deli Masters closes in Queens

Oy. First the pickle folks are leaving Manhattan, and now this. I just heard that Deli Masters, one of four remaining kosher delis in Queens, NY, has closed. Open since 1948, it made it just past six decades before succumbing to the economy and the change of the neighborhood. Owner Jonathan Kalan did his best to keep the business alive, after he bought it several years back, but the perfect storm of recession, kosher food costs, and a dwindling client base proved too much.

I asked Jay Parker, the owner of Queens deli Ben’s Best, what the story was:

“Too much rent and not enough business,” he told me. “Jonathan went out like a gentleman. He paid all his vendors and didn’t leave anyone hanging. He’s from the old school. A real mensch.”

What did Parker think about the closing?

“People say I have less competition, and that somehow I’ll profit off this, but I say NO! My iceberg is smaller. The whole field is shrinking away underneath us. We’re marginalized, all us delis here. I did better when it was 5000 of us. When are you going to stop thinking about delis? When there aren’t any more.”

Is there a future for Deli Masters?

“He’s talking about finding another location, but I don’t see it. Not with the tiny margins in this business. Now in Queens, there’s me and Buddy’s, and Ben’s. And that’s it. There used to be 8 stores within 10 blocks of here. Now it’s three for the entire borough.”

Sad news indeed.

35 Responses to “Deli Masters closes in Queens”

  1. Scott Schnipper Says:

    If it weren’t for the rapacious rents, I’d ask a deli restaurateur to open in brownstone western Brooklyn (Heights, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Slope, etc.), where there is zilch. I take my four-year-old to Katz’s and even to Irving’s in Livingston, NJ for a little old school. Wish there was some rye, pastrami and mustard and pickles closer, but — to quote early Clash — “what can I do?”

  2. carl dolinka Says:

    How about opening a deli in the Washington/Maryland area. We do not have a single decent place to go for good corned beef, pastrami, tongue, smoked fish, etc. Attman,s in Baltimore is tired and run down. Having experienced what used to be the many offerings in New York and several in Los Angeles, our situation is desparate.

  3. Jack Weiss Says:

    I think it’s the first time I’ve ever noticed Ben’s mentioned. I’m sure we will find Ben’s in the new book.
    Jack

  4. David Sax Says:

    Scott,
    I too live in the Slope and pray for deli. However I have good information that a Montreal style restaurant called Mile end is opening in Carol Gardens shortly. The owner told me he’ll be curing his own smoked meat and pickles…so hope is alive for us brownstone deli lovers. And our precious stroller babies.

    David

  5. Steve in Manhattan Says:

    Oh that loss hurts in a dreadfully final way – I never went there and was planning a trip. My own restaurant just closed, same reason, and I figured I’d have time… PLease post some pictures and the menu if you can… My condolences to the owners and patrons..

  6. Barry Strum Says:

    Sadly, we continue toward the sad truth that dekis require Jews…….Jews whose social social and cultural needs includes places where one congregates with other Jews… food/deli is an integral part of the cultural fabric. The suburban diaspora has done its work well………

    Delis were a part of my childhood & family culture in Queens of the 1950′/60′s. These days it’s easier to find a decent bowl of Pho, chapatis, and congee along the same turf that once celebrated the knish and Cel-Ray

  7. JEFF KLEIN Says:

    I GREW UP IN THAT NEIGHBORHOOD AND HAVE BEEN GOING BACK SINCE I MOVED. I WILL MISS THE PLACE WHERE I HAVE EATEN FOR OVER 50 YEARS! NOBODY BEAT THEIR PASTRAMI

  8. Daniel Says:

    I’ve been going to Deli Masters for years. My 92 year old grandmother lives just down Horace Harding and every time I would visit her, we would go to Deli Masters. I would get the Hot Pastrami on Rye (one of the best) and she would get the tongue sandwich (NO TIP!!!). When my grandmother found out it closed, she was heartbroken. Best thing was the price, which for all you got, was very reasonable for NYC. I don’t think I’ll ever find a deli with as good a hot pastrami for less than Deli Masters.

    Maybe the owner could try the Jewish part of Flushing or Kew Garden Hills, I’ve heard there are more jews in those areas with a number of kosher restaurants. If he ever reopens, he’ll surely have me as a customer

  9. Eric Says:

    My mother died two weeks ago (7/24/09) at 100. We told the Rabbi we’d meet her at Deli Masters to discuss the funeral, and we were shocked to find it closed! Obviously, so were others, who walked over to the restaurant and peered inside, to see no furniture.

    I grew up in Queens–182nd st. and Horace Harding– in the 1950s, and now live in L.A. I hadn’t been to the old neighborhood in 15 years, and it’s sad to see the deli go.

  10. Debra Davidson Says:

    My dad owned a kosher deli a few blocks west of Deli Masters, on Fresh Meadow Lane during the 1960s and 70s. Deli Masters was his main competition, so needless to say, I never ate there back then. I’m happy to say that a few years ago, a friend and I went wanderng thru the old neighborhood and ate lunch at Deli Masters. The aromas took be back instantly to my dad’s store.
    Really sad to hear it’s gone. The end of an era.

  11. Chuck Says:

    Oh man. I grew up down the block. Moved into the neighborhood when I was three (1951). It was the first place my parents would let me go on my own. Went back with my brother and his family a few years ago (we both moved out of NYC years ago). We have a picture of us standing in front. Just sad.

  12. Vivian Says:

    Oh no! This was always a stop for us coming from the city going out to the island. I am so sad. Please say it ain’t so! Deli Masters will surely be missed by us. :(

  13. Marc Greenstein Says:

    I, too, grew up in Fresh Meadows and knew the Deli-Masters very well. My Dad even owned a toy store there called Play-Pen, many years ago, that some of you old-timers may remember. Back when Deli-Masters was owned by 2 married couples (the one name I can remember for sure is Morris) it was the best and most delicious Deli anywhere. The owners (all 4 of them) were ALWAYS there and treated you like family. The truth is that over the years, Deli-Masters went downhill quality-wise. I would stop there on the way home from work (Manhattan to Roslyn) and the food was sub-standard. I had a huge fight there over a “center-cut” tongue sandwich I had ordered, which was 90% fat! They would NOT take it back, claiming that tongue was like that! I NEVER went in there again.
    No matter what everyone is saying, I believe there will ALWAYS be room for high-quality Jewish delis. There are several Ben’s Delis around me (Greenvale, Carle Place and even Roosevelt Field) and they all serve delicious food and NONE of them are hurting for business! Also, we have the legendary Andel’s right near me; just try to get in there on a Saturday morning.
    My message is: sure, it’s sad to see ANY establishment go out business. However, if you want to survive, bring good service and quality products. You’ll be fine! Have a grateful week-end. Marc G.

  14. George Kaplan Says:

    I remember a family named Leventhal owned Deli Masters in the early 1960s when it expanded. They lived in the garden apartments near Francis Lewis High School (I attended elementary school with their sons) and moved to New Hyde Park in the mid 1960s. I don’t remember when they sold Deli Masters.

  15. Mitch Says:

    I grew up in Queens not far from Deli Masters. I live in the Albany NY vicinity for the past 20 years, and continued to go back to Deli MAsters multiple times each year. I have taken my kids there and introduced them to corn beef. Any visit to NYC or Long Island always mandated a stop at Oasis Bagels and Deli MAsters.
    I was just there not too long ago and got a large order to take back to Albany, which has no decent delis to speak of.
    It has been a sad day. Pretty soon there won’t be any deli’s left.

  16. Bob Baumohl Says:

    I moved to southeast Florida last year, and its like the old days in NY. Plenty of kosher delis, including a Ben’s in Boca. Come on down – the corned beef is great!

  17. S Neiman Says:

    Heartbreaking. Perhaps the answer is to get a bunch of baby boomer Jews together, form an investment company, purchase a small building in Queens, put in a Jewish Deli, a Korean gorcery, a pizza place and an Indian restaurant. Rent out the upstairs for office space . . . Right on Union Turnpike or Northern Boulevard. So, so sad. But at least Queens is still a wonderful place to live.

  18. Dave L Says:

    This is so,so sad. A colleague of mine told me about the closing ealrlier today. I grew up in Fresh Meadows in the 1960″s and my Dad used to bring home Deli Masters all the time. Every now and then, on those special Sundays, my parents, sister and I used to go to eat there. Simply stated, it was the food of my childhood. I even took my wife and daugter there a few years back as we drove out to Long Island and they both loved it. The hot dogs “snapped” when you bit into them – never have I tasted one better. I will always remeber Deli Masters….

  19. JoAnne K Says:

    My brother (listed above) told me about this today.
    Deli Masters was part of growing up in Fresh Meadows in the 60′s. I remember hanging out there after school with my girlfriends sitting in a booth with a red leather banquette, ordering one hot dog for 4 of us. (Also remember buying most of my Barbi doll outfits in Play Pen.)
    Deli Masters makes me remember childhood innocence and simpler times…..

  20. Laraine Says:

    JoAnne – are you Joanne Klein?

  21. Rob A. Says:

    I must question the part of the piece that says the owner left “like a mensch”. They left literally over the course of a weekend; open one last Friday, closed Saturday and simply never re-opened, and the place looked gutted. The phone had a message saying they were closed for vacation until it was disconnected. Regular customers, such as myself, were never told they were closing. There are still salamis hanging in the window and behind the counter, five months later! I don’t know this for a fact, but the way it looks is a sudden decision to cash out as much inventory & equiptment as they could & walk away. A real-life piece of the demographic change in Fresh Meadows.

  22. Minky Says:

    My sisters and I are going nuts!
    There was a fab Jewish deli on Roosevelt Aveneu, Flushing in the 1960′s and early 70′s.
    On the same side of the street as Gertz a few stores going east.
    We have been racking our brains as to the name!
    Rather rustic inside.
    I keep thinking Squire’s? but my sister says I am wrong.
    Can anyone help us out here?

  23. Felipa Nocera Says:

    There is a nice tone to this blog post even but I still may not agree with all of it. Good job.

  24. The Fop Says:

    Yiddish culture has been living on borrowed time since the late 1940s due to the Holocaust and the birth of the state of Israel. I grew up in Miami in the 60s/70s and ate at places like Corky’s and Wolfies. When I moved up to New York in the early 80s, there were plenty of Jewish delis in every boro, But the death spiral of these delis was inevitable, The younger generations of Ashkenazi Jews have no special attachment to kosher versions of Eastern European food that is not very healthy,

    A place like Katz’s will survive, because they’re basically a sandwich shop. I think there will always be a market for a good kosher pastrami sandwich, It’s something that all New Yorkers can relate to, A pastrami on rye with a half sour pickle, a bag of Utz potato chips and a Dr, Brown’s Celery Soda is the best meal to accompany a baseball game. I think even Chinese, Indian, and Mexican New Yorkers could agree on that,

    I used to live right across the street from Ben’s Best for many years, Some of their best customers are middle aged Black people, I once overheard a great conversation there while waiting for some chicken soup (I always got take out when I was sick), This Black lady was reminiscing about all the Jewish delis on the upper West Side in the 50s,

  25. Samuel Harkrider Says:

    Good article. Waiting patiently for more.

  26. Robert K. Says:

    I was planning a visit to NYC this fall, searching for a menu to show my friend where we would experience the best pastrami sandwich on earth. I always tried to fly to LGA 10am-2pm so I could take a cab over and eat lunch before I went on my way. I was crushed to find out it was no more. DM was part of my youth & middle &old(er!) age and I am indeed sad today.

  27. len Says:

    Good ol’ B’klyn Deli’s…Here’s to joes Deli…and E.3rd. st. lou and up kings highway 19th. st. Deli

  28. Chad Collins Says:

    Howdy intelligent points.. now why didn’t I think of these?

  29. JSNYC Says:

    FYI…. drove past there over the weekend and it’s STILL “for rent” which is really just sad. Landlord should have worked out a deal.

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  32. Deli Aficionado Says:

    The original founders–owners of Deli Masters were two brothers (Morris & Sam) who founded the store in 1954 (not 1948, as stated in the article). The store was sold to new owners perhaps around 1984-1985 and, if I recall correctly, had at least 2 other sets of owners beyond the original founders. I was told by others who patronized the store (after the original owners Morris and Sam had given up the store) that the food quality and service went downhill from how they remembered it under the original founders–owners. Morris was especially memorable to many regulars over the years, as he had a very well-developed sense of humor (always telling jokes, stories, anecdotes, et al) and keep the customers and the employees laughing.

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