Ben’s Best Deli seeks new owner
by Michael Perlman
Jun 13, 2018 | 3848 views | 0 0 comments | 54 54 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ben's Best staff in a photo from the 1980s.
Ben's Best staff in a photo from the 1980s.
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Jay Parker, the longtime owner of Ben’s Best Delicatessen at 96-40 Queens Boulevard in Rego Park, recently announced that it would close for good if a buyer is not found for one of the last mom-and-pop kosher delis in the city.

The current iteration of the deli will shut down on June 30.

As chair of Rego-Forest Preservation Council, I approached Parker about finding a new owner to take over the deli. He said he was open to meeting with interested buyers.

“I had every desire to continue the business through other hands,” Parker said. “My staff would love to continue working here.”

Ben’s Best was opened by Benjamin Parker in 1945 and purchased by his son Jay in 1984. Parker attributed a recent decline in business to bike lanes and the loss of approximately 200 parking spots since last summer.

“Bike lanes are murdering us,” he said.

According to Parker, there was approximately 1,500 kosher delis in the five boroughs in 1938, but today there’s only about 12 remaining.

“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,” said patron Scott Aronofsky. “Nothing was frozen or canned. Even if Ben's is saved, and I hope so, there's a certain skill set. It takes just one spice added the wrong way, and it won't be Ben's.”

Ben’s Best scored a Zagat rating of 4.3, rare for a deli in New York City, and provides catering and flies its food around the country. Notable diners include Shimon Peres, Jerry Lewis, Jacob Javits, Nelson Rockefeller, Ed Koch, and Rudy Giuliani.

“Where does the flavor of a community go without maintaining tradition?” wondered 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.”

Arthur Cohen, whose family has patronized Ben’s since the late 1940s, called it the premier kosher deli.

“In its heyday it was always packed, especially on weekends. Even Sid Caesar came here when he lived nearby in Walden Terrace,” he said. “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.”

The restaurant includes a 65-seat dining room decorated with historic Rego Park scenes and a painting of Benjamin Parker. A map reads “You’ve been in our home. Where is yours?” and invites patrons to put a pin on their hometown.

“Since my mother's passing, my brothers and I have sought comfort in their food, atmosphere, and great memories,” said Lori Rosen. “My mom loved their rice pudding and we both loved their amazingly sweet kugel.”

Ben’s Best was featured in four scenes of “The Comedian,” a 2017 film starring Robert De Niro and Danny Devito, with Parker cast as a counterman. It was featured on The Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and appeared in “Deli Man,” a documentary about the country's deli owners.

“I ran into jazz singer Vicki Burns and told her she was in a legendary restaurant,” said Ari Silverstein while having lunch last week. “Then Jay told us he will be closing.”

“Ben’s Best represents a direct link to the end of WWII and is a landing zone to the American Jewish experience,” added Robert Rosner. “Some things get lost to time in progress, but Ben’s Best should not be one of them. Katz‘s Delicatessen has been thriving, and that key to success needs to be harnessed by the new owner.”

Parties interested in acquiring Ben’s Best should email unlockthevault@hotmail.com.

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