Past the knishes, and the hot dogs and pickles submerged in murky brine, Fredy Loeser sits in a chair, leaning against the wall. Not long before, Loeser’s Kosher Deli had been slammed, and now Fredy has found a moment to take a break with his daughter, Lisa.
The Loeser clan is 22 strong from three generations, Lisa said. And now that her daughter is getting married, it will be 23.
“All of us are involved in the deli,” Lisa said. “Every one of us. We do deliveries, we work on Saturdays, we work during the week. Whenever he needs us. Like today, we were packed busy, so I came.”
The busiest time tends to be the lunchtime rush between 11:30 and 2, Lisa said, but that day it had spilled past 2:30.
“Sometimes we have a line out the door,” Lisa said. “The seating is not much, so we try.”
Fredy Loeser is a man of few words, and a quietly wicked sense of humor. One could cut the guy some slack for showing a trace of fatigue, but he doesn’t. He’s been serving those knishes, dogs and pickles — plus homemade soups, from hearty split pea to classic matzo ball and other kosher delicacies to the Kingsbridge and Riverdale communities for nearly six decades.
And he still works 10 hours a day, six days a week, showing little sign of slowing down.
Now another daughter, Pamela Halpern, wants to give credit where credit is due — by having a sign placed on the north side of West 231st Street honoring Loeser’s Kosher Deli on its 58th year in business, ceremonially calling the street “Loeser’s Deli Place.”
“To most people, that’s a lifetime,” Halpern said. “To some people, it’s two lifetimes. The deli has always been a staple in the community.”
In addition to being the neighborhood go-to for a snap-good hotdog, Loeser has been on the front lines of more than one battle to preserve the community’s character. He has “always fought against different agendas,” Halpern said, including blocking a one-time family theater down the street from showing adult films.
Loeser “was there, supporting everyone with the picket signs,” Halpern said. “Everybody was fighting because they wanted to keep the community a family community.”
Halpern started a petition online, and within just a few days, nearly 600 people had signed up. Many raved about the deli, but also expressed how impressed they were it has withstood the test of time.
“I grew up in the neighborhood, and Loeser’s is the only place that remains constant in the ever-changing neighborhood,” Joanne Altritt wrote in a comment on the Change.org petition page. “Kosher delis in general are disappearing at a rapid pace.”
“This honors a legacy as well as an institution,” said Jim Gilliland, “and an integral part of the history of the neighborhood.”
With that in mind, Halpern approached Community Board 8 with a request.
“My father … has been the man that has stood behind the counter” for 58 years, Halpern said, in an email to the board. “Many things in the area have come and gone but the deli is still there. My family as well as many people in the community feel that it is way past due to honor the deli for its commitment to the Kingsbridge community for such an extraordinary amount of time.”
But adding the sign isn’t just a snap-of-the-fingers process, and CB8 has its own set of guidelines when it comes to naming streets. One of the mandatory standards is that the honoree must be deceased, according to CB8’s website, which is obviously not the case here. Loeser, who turns 75 at the end of the month, is alive and well.
A request would typically go through CB8’s traffic and transportation committee. Its chair, Dan Padernacht, said his committee received a request, and is now looking into how such a request might be fulfilled.
The idea for a sign came after a conversation with a childhood friend, Halpern said. She’s well aware it’s unconventional, but that’s not stopping her.
“I think in the world we live in, it’s time to think outside the box,” Halpern said. “Yes, I get it — we name places and people after those that are no longer here — but why? Shouldn’t we honor the here and now?”
Another issue that could stop Halpern’s dream might be the fact that honorary street names don’t typically acknowledge for-profit businesses. It’s that hurdle that Councilman Andrew Cohen is exploring, a spokesman said.
“The council’s standard for co-namings are a deceased individual who had a significant, lasting impact on the city, or an organization that has had a significant, lasting impact on the city,” said Daniel Johnson, Cohen’s chief of staff. “Although Loeser’s has been a pillar of the community for over 50 years, it is unclear if businesses meet those standards.”
Yet, even if the sign isn’t the way to go, Johnson says Cohen would like to work with CB8 to find a way to honor Loeser’s for its commitment to the neighborhood.
And from what customers say, the honor is well deserved.
Connie Dennis has been a Loeser’s customer for nearly 40 years, preferring the pastrami sandwiches, fries and generous portions, as well as the people she finds there.
“It’s a good family spot and Fredy’s the best,” Dennis said. “It’s so nice to come back to the same spot where the food is always good, even though the neighborhood has changed tremendously.”
Even those who don’t count themselves regulars say Loeser’s has clear selling points. Miguel Santiago was sitting down to a late lunch with his fiancée and granddaughter. It was Santiago’s first time at Loeser’s, and he was in for a treat.
“I’ve driven by here many times over the years, and today said, ‘Let me try it,’” Santiago said. “A nice Jewish deli — it’s a rarity. We know of another one on 235th between Riverdale Avenue and Henry Hudson Parkway, but it’s hard to find parking there.”
But regardless of whether Halpern’s street sign dream comes to fruition, Loeser is grateful to continue what he’s been doing all along — offering great kosher deli food to the community he loves, never sacrificing on quality or service. That’s because for Loeser, people come first.
And the community seems to love Loeser back.
“What can I tell you,” Loeser said. “Everybody’s gotta do something. And if you can work in a community and you love the community and they respect you, that’s an accomplishment in itself.”