Thursday, June 14, 2018

For Sale: Ben’s Best Deli Seeks New Owner ASAP!!!

By Michael Perlman

For parties interested in acquiring Ben’s Best, email

Jay Parker, the longtime owner of Ben’s Best Delicatessen at 96-40 Queens Boulevard in Rego Park, announced that it may soon be history, if a buyer is not found for one of the last mom and pop kosher delis citywide. On June 7, a notice stated, “Regretfully, after 73 wonderful years, Ben’s Best will be closing its doors on June 30th. We are very grateful to everyone who has supported us, and we hope to see you one last time.”

In response, this columnist, as Chair of Rego-Forest Preservation Council, submitted a preservation proposal to the owner. It explained that time is of the essence to find an individual who will acquire this historic business. Parker was receptive and responded, “I had every desire to continue the business through other hands. If you find an interested party, we can reconstitute the business. My staff would love to continue working here.” Parker is open to meetings with prospective owners, and if a contract is negotiated, the staff members and ambiance would be retained.

Parker attributed his business’ recent decline to bike lanes and the loss of approximately 200 parking spots since last summer. “Bike lanes are murdering us,” he said. A banner across the façade now announces “curbside service,” and a petition calling for its removal has been placed inside. 

Staff posing alongside Harry Glaubach's Ben's Best wooden art piece & wall of fame
Painting of Ben's Best founder Benjamin Parker & his son Jay Parker, Photo by Michael Perlman
Ben’s Best was opened by Benjamin Parker in 1945 and was purchased by his son Jay Parker in 1984. “There was an approximate 1,500 kosher delis in the 5 boroughs in 1938, but today there’s about 12 remaining,” said Parker. In an average week, Parker would serve an estimated 900 pounds of pastrami, nearly the same for corned beef, and around 250 pounds of white meat turkey. 

Benjamin Parker circa 1940s, Courtesy of Jay Parker 
Ben’s Best scored a Zagat excellent rating of 4.3, while there are not many Zagat-rated delis. Ben’s Best caters private and corporate events, has a national air freight business, and has enticed the palates of numerous notables including Israeli President Shimon Peres, actor and comedian Jerry Lewis, Senator Jacob Javits, Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Mayor Ed Koch, and Mayor Rudy Giuliani. 

Ben's Best classic depiction on Lower East Side by famed artist Harry Glaubach
Ben's Best classic depiction on wood by famed artist Harry Glaubach
The classic ambiance features portraits of notables and plaques, and a 65-seat wood-paneled dining room with historic Rego Park scenes and a painting of Benjamin Parker. A map reads “You’ve been in our home. Where is yours?” and allows patrons to pin their residence. Designed by famed artist Harry Glaubach is a classic wooden work, which provides an illusion of Ben’s on the Lower East Side and memorializes the Marx Brothers, Abbott & Costello, and The Three Stooges. The famed logo on the façade sign and menu depicts a man on a bicycle riding by a deli window.

Danny DeVito & Jay Parker of "The Comedian," Courtesy of Jay Parker
Ben's Best 1980s staff photo with Jay Parker, 2nd from left
Ben's Best in late 1980s Vlasic pickles commercial, Courtesy of Jay Parker
Ben’s Best occasionally becomes a production set and is featured in written works. “The Comedian,” a Sony Pictures Classics film starring Robert De Niro, Danny DeVito, and Leslie Mann, had a wide release in theaters on February 3, 2017, and Ben’s Best was featured in four scenes, with Parker cast as counterman. It was featured in this columnist’s book “Legendary Locals of Forest Hills and Rego Park” and on The Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” in “From Crepes to Kreplach” (season 11, episode 9). The deli also appeared in “Deli Man,” a documentary which chronicles cross-country deli owners. 

Numerous patrons among deli fans immediately conveyed much support for Ben’s Best and shared memories and their hopes. Scott Aronofsky explained “What set Ben's Best apart from the other less memorable old school kosher delis in Queens is that everything was made the old-fashioned way, from recipes handed down and taught to Jay by his father. Nothing was frozen or canned. Even if Ben's is saved, and I hope so, there's a certain skill set for making chicken in the pot, Hungarian goulash, kreplach, mushroom barley soup, stuffed cabbage, and of course pastrami the old-school way. It takes just one spice added the wrong way, and it won't be Ben's.”

Last Thursday, Ari Silverstein was enjoying lunch and then was shocked for a couple of reasons. He was among the first to hear the news. “I ran into somebody I never thought I'd see in a kosher deli, jazz singer Vicki Burns who I rarely see her out of her natural habitat, a jazz club. I told her she was in a local legendary restaurant. Then Jay told her ‘you didn’t have the pastrami?!...who goes to a deli to have salad?’ Then he told us he will be closing. I listened to Jay and Marty tell stories about their most memorable times, and especially the one about creating an outdoor seating section for a large bus group, right on Queens Boulevard.”

Lori Rosen immediately thought, “Oh no, not another neighborhood icon gone.” She reminisced, “When Ben's turned 50, they sold hot dogs and matzah ball soup for only a nickel to commemorate it, and the mayor even came to honor them. Since my mother's passing, my brothers and I have sought comfort in their food, atmosphere, and great memories. My mom loved their rice pudding and we both loved their amazingly sweet kugel. We also catered on many occasions.”

“Where does the flavor of a community go without maintaining tradition?” asked longtime patron Miri Malach. “In the 1980s, my aunt, uncle, and their three sons came every week from Westchester. When my brother moved to L.A., dad would always pack him a sandwich for the plane.” “My eldest son launched a sports program in Forest Hills and teaches in preschools, so on our weekly meal, we get him corned beef till this day to keep him strong,” she chuckled.

Arthur Cohen, whose family has also patronized Ben’s since the late 1940s, called it the premier kosher deli. “In its heyday, it was always packed especially on weekends to either dine in or take out, and even Sid Caesar came here when he lived nearby in Walden Terrace. One of my favorite deli meats was rolled beef, which I’m not sure is even made today.” He offered an idea to attract a diverse clientele. “If a new owner is found, they can combine the kosher deli with a lighter menu to take in changes of tastes with a more modern twist.” 

Ben's Best owner Jay Parker outside his deli, Photo by Michael Perlman
“Ben’s Best represents a direct link to the end of WWII and is a landing zone to the American Jewish experience,” said Robert Rosner, who feels that the neighborhood that he was raised in has been in the “crosshairs of very destructive business practices and city government actions.” He continued, “Some things get lost to time in progress, but Ben’s Best should not be one of them. Katz‘s Delicatessen has been thriving in this environment of Jewish deli decline, and that key to success needs to be harnessed by the present or new owner.”

Third generation patron Ellen Chernick makes the commute from Woodside. “Closing Ben’s represents a demise of Queens Boulevard, and I’m still getting over the closing of Alexander’s.” 

Owner Jay Parker poses with memorabilia & pin-your-location map, Photo by Michael Perlman
You've been to our home. Where is yours? - Photo by Michael Perlman

A vintage hand-drawn Friday menu special, Photo by Michael Perlman

Ben's Best Delicatessen's classic menu cover, Photo by Michael Perlman

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