“There was approximately 1,500 kosher delis in the five boroughs in 1938, but today there’s about 12 remaining,” said Jay Parker, whose father Benjamin Parker opened the deli at 96-40 Queens Boulevard in 1945.
Ben’s Best has enticed palates ranging from Israeli President Shimon Peres and actor and comedian Jerry Lewis to Senator Jacob Javits and Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
“Our food has a Zagat excellent rating of 4.3, and there aren’t many delis even rated by Zagat,” Parker said.
Its old-school ambiance has also been a creative draw, transforming into a set for a number of productions over the years. “The Comedian” starring Robert De Niro, Danny DeVito and Leslie Mann shot four scenes in the deli last year.
“[Location manager Eddy Collyns] knew there weren’t too many of us,”Parker recalled. “He fell in love with the place and asked if we would consider doing a movie here. I asked him 'how much do we have to pay?' and he replied, ‘no, we pay you.’ I said in Yiddish ‘nach beser’ (even better).”
A couple weeks later the director and his crew toured Ben’s Best.
“We shook hands and they actually owned the real estate for two, 16-hour days in March 2016,” Parker said. “I let everyone in at 6 a.m.”
Parker treats his patrons like VIPs, but since the film’s release he has been receiving the VIP treatment.
“I had to go out and get a Sharpie,” he said. “People come in after the film and want to have a photograph and autograph. I’ve signed a few dozen.”
Ben’s Best is even running a special promotion for the next couple of months.
“If you bring a ticket stub, we will give you 15 percent off your in-house dining check,” Parker said.
In one scene, De Niro and DeVito stood under a painting of Benjamin Parker. Parker was even cast in the film as a counterman.
“The door opens and De Niro enters and taps the counter to get his brother’s attention at the grill. DeVito then says ‘hey Jay,’ which is my cue,” Parker explained. “I walk over to the grill, fixing a frankfurter. I turn to De Niro, give my professional deli smirk, and say 'hi.' And that begins and ends my movie career!”
Ben’s Best’s manager Richy Meseika also appeared in the film.
“He walks behind De Niro and puts a chair on a table, so we call him a ‘chairman,’” said Parker.
“During the takes, De Niro and DeVito were discussing where the emphasis should be,” Parker continued. “You would think that they would walk in, say their lines, and go home, but just because they are great at what they do, doesn’t mean they let anything slide. Now when I go to the movies, I can look behind the characters and understand what it took to shoot a three-minute segment.”
Ben’s Best’s was featured in a Vlasic pickles commercial in the late 80s, the book “Legendary Locals of Forest Hills and Rego Park” and on The Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
The deli also appeared in “Deli Man,” a documentary which chronicles the background and future of deli owners across the country.
“At some point there may be no more kosher Jewish delis, but our plan is to stay as long as the good lord and our patrons want us to be here,” said Parker.