Here’s starting off the year right: Half a century ago, way up in the northwest corner of the Bronx, called Riverdale, a young man of just 17 named Fredy Loeser used some of his bar mitzvah savings to open up a kosher delicatessen. Back then, there were still hundreds of Jewish delis all over the Bronx, and thousands around New York City, and Loeser’s was jumping into a crowded field. What happened to the Bronx since then is the stuff of urban studies legends: Robert Moses put in the Cross Bronx Expressway, the middle class fled to the suburbs, gangs took over, slums grew, fired blazed, and the Bronx burned.
Today, Loeser’s Kosher Delicatessen is one of two Jewish delis left standing in the Bronx (the other is Liebman’s, nearby). So it’s with great pride, and a sense of mazel, that I write today about the milestone Fredy Loeser has achieved. Half a century in any business is admirable. Five decades in the Jewish deli business, in a time when delis are still endangered, is incredible. But fifty years as a kosher delicatessen in the Bronx is an absolute miracle.
All of this is due to the tireless work of Fredy Loeser, one of the last counterman/owners in New York’s Jewish deli business. Fredy is not the type of guy to mince words. He’s a tough SOB, who has fought hard to keep Loeser’s in business. Here’s what I wrote about meeting Fredy for the first time in Save the Deli:
Loeser’s was a relic so well preserved you could suffocate in atmosphere. There were faded family photos, old signs, clippings of political events, and handwritten notes from customers push-pinned to the wall.
“I’m a natural, a switch hitter,” Loeser told me, glaring into my eyes to make sure I heard every word. “I got the best pastrami in New York, the best brisket, the best soup, the best everything.” He had the talk, the look, and the swagger of the consummate Deli Man—a creature disappearing with the deli itself, despite the self-assuredness of their own skills. And when he was done talking with me, he simply said, “Thanks for visiting,” and turned his back. As much as it should have offended me, I was delighted.
Last year, I went back to Loeser’s and found Fredy behind the counter, as always. He was talking with regulars, pushing his deliciously spiced pastrami, and building towering sandwiches for customers that have known him since they were kids. In a world of so called sandwich experts and armchair deli mavens (I’m including myself here), Fredy Loeser is the real deal. He’s a deli man, through and through, and it gives me much pride and joy to wish him, Loeser’s Delicatessen, and all the great deli lovers of Da Bronx, a happy birthday.
Celebrations will be held this Saturday, January 8th, at 12.30 pm. Head on up to the Bronx and check it out.
214 West 231st Street