Steve Klein, owner of Hunki’s Kosher Pizza and Catering in Plainview, grew up on Jewish delicatessen food. It was customary to go kosher at the deli counter, ordering matzo ball soup, heaps of pastrami and hot dogs that snap with each bite. But those memories of a Jewish deli at every corner are quietly fading, as Plainview’s Boomy’s is the latest in a stomach-turning trend of shuttering Jewish delis.
“It’s not like it used to be with grandpa, looking for matzo ball soup and a sandwich,” said Klein, whose Hunki’s has been on Central Park Road for about a decade. “The food business in general is not easy. And you take that a step further and a few steps harder in the kosher business. The food is more expensive and it’s more expensive to operate in general.”
Boomy’s, whose owner could not be reached for comment, had been at the same spot in the Woodbury shopping plaza for more than 30 years. About a year ago, it switched from a strictly kosher menu to kosher-style, meaning it featured traditional Jewish dishes but did not adhere to the dietary laws. This might have been a last-ditch effort by the owners to save the deli, according to other business owners in Plainview.
“With kosher comes added expenses. Regular cheese, for example, sells for a third of the price of the kosher cheese that I buy,” said Klein. “It’s a niche business and an expensive niche at that.”
Long Island’s remaining kosher delis include Zan’s in Lake Grove, Lido in Long Beach, Pastrami N Friends in Commack, Regal in Plainview, Woodro in Hewlett and Ben’s in Greenvale, Carle Place and Woodbury. Kosher-style delis include Pastrami Plus in East Meadow, Kensington in Great Neck and Pastrami King in Merrick.
And in New York City, once the cultural and spiritual home of the Jewish deli, only a handful remain from a business that was once on nearly every street corner. In fact, only about 150 Jewish delis remain nationwide, compared to the thousands that were once in the five boroughs alone. In the 2014 documentary movie Deli Man, filmmaker Erik Greenberg Anjou posits a number of factors for the deli demise, including the rise of suburbs, the dwindling of mom and pop shops, the high price of kosher meat and the sheer volume of product that must be moved in order to turn a profit.
Back in Plainview’s Jewish deli fold, Steven Weiss sits at the counter at Regal Kosher Deli & Caterers on Old Country Road. Regal has held its ground in the kosher business for 49 years, and in that time, Weiss has served generations of eaters.
“A lot of the original customers have either gone to heaven or to Florida,” said Weiss, who did not know Boomy’s situation and chose not to comment on the closure. “But we move on to new customers; the children and grandchildren of the old customers. And we keep them coming back with hard work and dedication.”
Fickle tastes of eaters might also be an issue. Klein said that the majority of Hunki’s business resides in catering to local synagogues and schools, as opposed walk-in retail customers.
“We get some retail, but it’s not our main niche,” he said. “We rely on Hebrew schools and synagogues all over Long Island, not just Plainview. As a business owner, you cannot rely strictly on lunch customers, because it’s just not like that anymore.”
Hunki’s casts a wide net in the Jewish community, offering a change of pace from traditional deli food with Israeli, Middle Eastern and Italian cuisine, all under strict supervision of Vaad Harabonim of Queens. His biggest clientele consists of those in the orthodox faith, serving them cholov and paas yisroel, refering to dairy and grain products that adhere to strict Jewish law.
Boomy’s chose to go in the opposite direction in 2014 and according to Klein, that might have sealed its fate.
“Becoming more strict might have given them a better shot that going kosher-style, but I can’t speak to their bottomline,” said Klein.