The Fall Of Carnegie Deli

300px-Carnegie_deli_exteriorMy speech this week in New York allowed me the opportunity to return to my favorite haunts in the Big Apple like the Metropolitan Museum of Art. However, one uninterrupted tradition for decades was . . . well interrupted. As I have previously discussed, I love to go to Carnegie Deli. While touristy and over-priced, it still had my favorite corned beef and most importantly my favorite Matzo ball soup. As discussed in April, the deli closed after the discovery that it had been stealing gas for years with a dangerous illegal cut into the gas line – the same crime that resulted in the destruction of a building in New York last year with the loss of life. The deli remains closed and the scandals appear to be piling higher than its famous corned beef sandwich. On the bright side, the despicable conduct of the restaurant has led me to pursue a search for my next favorite deli. This trip brought me to the Second Avenue Deli.

Con Edison has reported that its crews discovered a diverted line running to Carnegie while looking for a leak. These inspections have been increased in the aftermath of an explosion in the East Village that killed two people. An illegal gas line tap is suspected. What is astonishing is that I could not find evidence that anyone, including the former manager Sanford Levine or the second-generation owner of the deli, Marian Harper Levine, being charged criminally. This would seem an obvious crime worth thousands of dollars that put lives in obvious jeopardy. Yet, the only discussion appears to be a fine in the media. In the meantime, an elderly couple has been living above the deli without heat or utilities for months with winter approaching. I still cannot imagine how (even in New York) no one will go to jail for such a dangerous crime.

However, the gas line crime is just the start of this kosher version of a Greek tragedy. Sanford Levine, who was denounced by a judge this year as the “shyster of smoked meat,” was found to have been ripping off the minimum wage workers at the deli and paying them the equivalent to $2.50 a hour rather than $15. The restaurant recently settled the dispute for $2.65 million.

Then it came out that Sanford Levine, who married the daughter of the founder of the deli (Marian Harper), was having an affair with his manager who was accused of sending meat and recipes to her restaurant connections in the Philippines. Levine reportedly allowed her to live above the deli at a low rent while their affair was going on.

Justice Matthew Cooper slammed both telling that Sanford and Marian Levine were not worth his concern or sympathy. In the meantime, Sanford pursued Marian for $11,000 per month in support during their divorce. Cooper asked “Does Mr. Levine have no shame?” and added that “In the name of profit, Mr. Levine would toy with the safety of the people of New York City. . . . (He’s a) rapacious person who not only deprived workers of their livelihood – guys who cut the meat and washed the dishes . . . Even worse he steals gas from Con Edison and endangers not only anyone who came to the building but anyone in Midtown Manhattan!

There is little public sympathy for either of them, particularly after Marian left the courtroom and was heard to say “Everything was taken away from me because of this.” She seemed to have fewer concerns while her workers were being ripped off and gas stolen at her deli.

Fortunately, there are other delis in New York.

IMG_3713The Second Avenue Deli is no longer on Second Avenue but rather relocated at 162 East 33rd Street (between Lexington Avenue and Third Avenue) It originally opened in 1954 on the southeast corner of Second Avenue and East 10th Street but closed following the murder of its founder Abe Lebewohl, a survivor of The Holocaust, during a robbery on March 4, 1996. No one was ever prosecuted for the crime. The new owner Jack Lebewohl closed the delicatessen at its original location in the East Village after a rent dispute but has created a wonderful space. It is less touristy and the food is very good. While I still prefer the Matzo ball soup at Carnegie, the pickles were great and the corned beef terrific. You also enjoy the customers speaking Hebrew and Yiddish. When one family began to tell me about their favorite delis, two other tables joined in with loud objections to their suggestions (including one person who yelled across the room “You don’t know what you’re talking about. They use a microwave! A microwave! It a disgrace.”) At the end of the meal, they bring you a glass of chocolate soda, which is fun. I had a ball.

The good thing about the demise of the Levines is that it has forced me to renew by search for the perfect New York deli (though they are declining in number). Second Avenue Deli is worth a visit and is certainly in the running, but the search will continue happily.

Here are some pictures from the Second Avenue Deli:







22 thoughts on “The Fall Of Carnegie Deli”

  1. When I was a little kid, my father and his crew would regularly descend almost nightly at the Stage Delicatessen, which was a couple blocks from the Carnegie.
    When they had some kind of falling out with the Stage, we variously went to the 2nd Avenue Deli, which was on 2nd Avenue at the time, and the Market Diner on 11th Avenue.
    After that they settled on the Carnegie almost exclusively for many years.

  2. Nice stereotype, trooper. Almost as good as the ones about all cops being murdering, racist pigs.

  3. The one in Rego Park is the better one but the one in the garment center is pretty good.

  4. Real New Yorkers go to Ben’.

    It is delicious and Kosher and best of all it is cheap so you know it is authentically Jewish!

  5. Paul C @ 9:58 am

    Great observation.

    Now, why is it, again, that an elderly couple, living above this shuttered deli, is living there without heat or utilities for months? You mean that Con Ed hasn’t rectified this problem after all of this time? Something about this little bubba meissa appears to be off. How are they, given the conditions of this rat trap, allowed to live there, legally, especially given the notoriety of this story? Why isn’t the restaurant’s insurance picking up the tab to house this couple at a safe and comfortable location until this situation has been corrected? Something’s fishy here, and it’s not the schmaltz herring.

  6. This miserable deli was a rip off and it finally got what it deserved. Hope it stays closed forever

  7. What’s wrong with Katz’s ???

    When I lived in the NYC metropolitan area, that’s where I liked to go …

  8. I love the part about how the Filipino puttana was sending briskets and recipes to her buddies in the Philippines in an effort, I assume, to replicate the success of this establishment. Yes, just what the Philippines desperately needs–the recipes for gefilte fish, borsht, knishes and matzo ball soup. I suppose that her “connections” in the Philippines were serving mile-high sandwiches on rye, overstuffed with thinly sliced dog meat. Those probably weren’t going over so well.

  9. I’ve been a frequent client of the 2nd ave deli in both the 2nd ave location and the new location on 33rd st…The Carnegie was always too over the top for most New Yorker’s and sadly Katz’s is no longer as good as it once was…the last of the remaining true deli’s are in the outlying borough’s and one would have to do some research to find them…New York is just not what it used to be when every neighborhood had a least one great deli

  10. I suppose that there are no “civility rules” in New York or in Yorkie Courts. The non Jew calls the Jewish guy a “shyster” and of “smoked meat” no less. It looks like most of the “tired, poor and huddled masses” stayed in NYC when they got off the boat. Then they commingle and produce offspring. They talk a different language than English and they are mostly all bigots of one sort or another. Al Sharpton include in the bigot race baiting catagory.
    I am from another planet and choose my places of visit with some degree of discern. All the Yorkies have to offer is an airport or two from which one can fly in and get on another plane to get to Europe.

    If you want a great town with great food go to New Orleans. Or Saint Louis. I am in Charlie Gittos in Saint Louis as I speak.

  11. I’m sad.. esp for the couple who don’t have heat .. and for all of this. It’s part of human rights and so much more…and .. well, on a personal level, it made me 1) upset I’d given so much money over too many biz and personal trips to NYC to Carnegie; 2) hungry.

  12. Wow, this saga could have been a Reality TV show! I’m glad you found a new deli. Bronia Roslawowski owned the M&M Bakery @ 31st and Prospect in KC for decades. Bronia was an Auschwitz survivor. She chose to live in Missouri because that is where Harry Truman lived. She was eternally grateful it was US soldiers who liberated her from hell. I got to know Bronia from frequenting her restaurant. It was in my district when I was a juvenile probation officer. 31st and Prospect is as tough an area as you will find in KC. Legend has it a robber came into the deli once and stuck a gun in her face. She stared him down saying, “Hitler couldn’t kill me and you sure as hell aren’t!” If you knew Bronia you could believe the story. Bronia always wore short sleeves so people could see her tattoo. It was her personal “Never Forget” tribute. As I said on another thread, good restaurant or hotel owners take care of their employees. Bronia always hired black people from the neighborhood. She was quick to give a cookie to a child and feed a homeless person. Bronia sold her restaurant to a longtime employee, Dorothy Williams, another very nice woman. It is still going strong from what I hear.

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