Death of a Deli: Carnegie Delicatessen Closes After Years Of Scandal and Mismanagement

300px-Carnegie_deli_exteriorWe previously discussed the demise of my favorite New York deli, Carnegie.   After roughly 80 years, the deli closed despite a huge following of supporters.  It was a New York icon ruined by the daughter of its late owner and her truly repellent husband.  The result is that the now divorced couple ran one of the most successful restaurants into the ground — and with it the vision of her father (and arguably the best Matzo Ball Boup in the city).

The undoing of Carnegie began with an alarming discovery by Con Edison. Con Edison 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 was living above the deli without heat or utilities for months with winter approaching.

It then got even more seedy. Sanford Levine, who was denounced by a judge 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!”

Marian Harper reportedly said that the restaurant was simply taking too much of her time and she wanted to enjoy her life. She is moving however to license the brand and sell products for wholesale distribution. In the meantime, her father’s great success has been left in ashes and, worse yet, thousands will be left without the over-sized corned beef and signature Matzo Ball soup.

I still have not found a substitute for my deli fix in New York despite years of trying. The number of Jewish delis (one of the icons of the city) have been falling in New York for years — due to changing diets and perhaps a declining cultural identification with the traditional dishes). I was particularly found of the soup and would not miss the deli on visits to New York. Now I am left a deli orphan.

38 thoughts on “Death of a Deli: Carnegie Delicatessen Closes After Years Of Scandal and Mismanagement”

  1. Jack Ruby, wouldn’t be great if cities (perhaps Chambers of Commerce) listed businesses that mit be what someone is looking for. The Carnegie Deli sounds like a complete cleaning and some repairs it would be ready to reopen. Employees might want to return. It would cost a lot less than a new owner gutting it and replacing everything. We need a new attitude. Fix and start over. Location, location, location.

  2. This is a shining example of not just that “the fool and his money are soon parted,” but more fittingly that “the fool and his money must be parted.”

    Sadly it seems the deli could not be reconstituted by another investor willing to restore it to its original fanfare. But then again if some Mickey Mouse corporation takes hold and makes it into something ridiculous and kitschy it’s probably better for it to die and preserve the memory and legend than languish on, humiliated by blathering marketing wonks who have never worked a day in a restaurant; as the Star Wars franchise did when they brought in Jar Jar Binks or the Ewoks.

  3. I suspect the sub story here is that Gazprom, under Putin’s direct orders, has been hacking the gas line that Levine (may have) hacked and leaked it through Wikileaks who in turn leaked it through the pipe line (as it were) until it came to the attention of the utility company. The utility company knows a bad deal when it smells one and in turn reported the leak to the the authorities. Obama, understanding that his constituents “can not handle the truth,” has changed the story to avoid panic about gas line explosions and feels that a good cold to hot war with Russia will take everyone’s mind off the danger.

      1. No problem as long as the partisanship keeps one foot in the center. In a Constitutional Republic the center IS the Constitution. But when it’s claimed to be the center of the writings of Hegel, Marx, Engels, and Mohammed…..not acceptable. Kant do that.

        1. Did Hegel, Marx, Engels or Mohammed (or Kant) ever eat at the Carnegie Deli? I wish people could stick to the subject, and leave their political rants for other stories…..

          1. If wishes were horses beggars would ride.

            Notice the dates and times.

            Jay S
            1, January 1, 2017 at 5:43 am

            Good grief ! Is everything about partisan politics?

            Michael Aarethun
            1, January 1, 2017 at 10:51 am

            No problem as long as the partisanship keeps one foot in the center……..not acceptable. Kant do that and aren’t Charlie Brown..

      2. I’m not the one who kicked out Russian diplomats in a clearly contrived partisan parting shot aimed to escalate tensions with Russia and make it difficult for Trump to back out.

        And Jay, I’m sure you’re a nice guy, but you are hardly one to complain about partisan bias or about politicizing everything.

  4. My families restaurant went seamlessly from the 1st generation[my grandfather] to my uncle and father. My dad got out to use his skills working for Pratt & Whitney. It was more conducive to raising a family. But, my uncle expanded the biz to also do catering. His kids and my family worked it. But, when my uncle retired none of the kids wanted to continue. We all knew the hard work required and that, unlike what many think, the biz is not glamorous. 60 year run. Not bad.

    1. Interesting story and well told (albeit brief). 🙂 I saw the decline of “the diner” in New England from around 1965 – 1990. It’s just the way it goes. Every now and again, one comes across a hold out; someone who still runs a small family restaurant usually with simple but well prepared food. But as you point out, it requires a lot of work over a long period of time. Things change.

    2. Nick, …I can top that a bit with the Pastime Cafe in Walla Walla Washington….about an 80 year run.
      My great uncle, Frank Rizzuti, started it in the 1920s with partner Louis Fazzari.
      Uncle Frank retired in 1968, and the Fazzaris took over his part of the business.
      Three generations of the Fazzari family ran the restaurant until it was sold about 10 years ago.
      Lots of local history, good food, and good memories associated with The Pastime Cafe.

  5. I enjoyed reading the descriptive experiences in this thread, but what I found most interesting is how the writing styles compared to what I’ve read in their legal/political comments. I think it would be a hoot to be a waiter at a cocktail party with all of you.

    Happy New Year everyone! Be safe.

  6. I had eaten there a couple of times, years ago. Thought the food was great. How could these owners screw up a sure fire thing? Sad.

    1. Her father, Milton Parker (ne Pakowitz) was not the founder of the Deli. He and two partners bought it from the founders in 1976. According to his obituary, he was the sole managing partner from 1987 to 2002, when he turned the operation over to Sanford Levine and retired. He died in 2009. His daughter Marian’s online bio is vague about her employment history with the company, but it appears she worked there only part-time from 198? until 200? after a number of years as a housewife (having worked there full time for a brief period in the 1970s. It’s a reasonable inference that if her husband was able to carry on an affair with an employee for 13 years and install his mistress in a rental property his father-in-law owned (for a concessionary rent) that she wasn’t well acquainted with the day-to-day operations. She sued her husband for divorce in 2011 and discharged him as manager.

      It’s not clear whether she or her estranged husband was responsible for the illegal gas hook-up and it’s quite conceivable that the perpetrator was her father or even the founding owners. One of the judges presiding over the various civil disputes surrounding this couple accused Sanford Levene from the bench of siphoning the gas but (if the newspaper accounts are accurate) offered no citation to any evidence that Levine had commissioned the illegal diversion.

      The current owner was apparently born Marian Parker or Marian Pakowitz. She married a man named Harper and they had a daughter who works with her mother. Sanford Levine was her 2d husband. She apparently resumed the name Harper after her divorce from Levine. Her daughter is about 35 years old and has apparently never married.

      His conduct in the divorce case is brazen, but matrimonial law is an ass and wives get away with brazenness routinely in divorce cases.

      Marian Harper is 68 years old, so it’s an ordinary time for her to retire. It’s a reasonable wager that what’s up is that the revenue stream was severely injured during the year they were on hiatus. It’s also conceivable that her daughter (who has worked there about 9 years) simply does not wish to continue operating the Deli.

  7. Chesterton said journalism consists of saying ‘Lord Jones Died” to readers who had no idea that Lord Jones was ever alive.

    Per the newspaper account, the couple in question married when she was 43 and he was 51. The wife alleges the affair with the employee was ongoing from 1998 to at least 2011, that the employee is an illegal alien, and that they defrauded first her father and then her with the sweetheart rental agreement the husband gave her (which, by 2011, amounted to a concession worth $2,000 a month). The mistress isn’t a trophy; she’s only two years younger than the wife. The founder died in 2009 and Sanford Levine was discharged as manager around 2011. The illegal gas hookup was discovered in 2015 and the place was then closed for a year. The tenants without heat are quite a pair. They’ve lived there since 1958 but have eaten at the deli only once; the joys of rent control….

  8. Most family businesses don’t survive past the children for this reason.

    Hence the aphorism: “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.”

    1. “This reason’? What reason is that?

      There not very clear on just when the founder retired, but it appears to have been about 25 years ago. Marian Levine was born in 1948, so it’s a reasonable inference her father decamped elsewhere ca. 1990. She and Sanford Levine were married in 1991.

      1. Correction. His obituary says he retired in 2002. He was an established restaurateur who bought the place with two partners in 1976 (from the founding owners).

        The lawsuit about back wages is curious. How was it that Sanford Levine was able to get away with short-changing his workers for 10 years? The size of the negotiated settlement is such that with costs and interest the company owes the suing employees $110,000 on average. Let’s posit most of that’s costs and interests and let’s posit that the plaintiffs worked a mean of five years for Sanford Levine. He stiffs food service workers for $10,000 a year per worker and it takes a decade before anyone takes him to the state labor commissioner or to court? Something doesn’t add up.

    2. There is something to the genius skipping a generation riff. I knew several very successful families when I lived in the South of France. The Pastor family owns huge areas of Monaco. On the top of Mont Angel overlooking Monaco, there are but three properties: a game keeper whose family has been there for centuries, the country farm of the Grimaldi’s, the local royalty, and a medieval monastery turned summer retreat for the Pastor family. The Pastor I dealt with was the grandson of the original. J. P. Pastor was bringing his grandfather’s power back into sway. He built buildings where you could only lease the condos, never buy them. The grandfather came over from Italy, literally with a pick axe and shovel. He worked small to medium and then eventually built roads, and civic works. The elder Pastor was the main contractor of the area. The son inherited and lazed about. The grandfather spent his time with his grandson while his son, as was the case with him as father, had little time for his son. The genius was passed on from grandfather to grandson. This is an oft repeated scenario. There was a contractor in Nice with almost identical histories. Nothing excels more than an original idea and commitment.

  9. The Pacific Cafe on the corner of Geary and 34th in San Francisco illustrates the reality and appeal of these icons of ‘food like this, only available here’. I ate at the Carnegie Deli in New York in the 80’s and found it was 90% hype and 10% food. The same was true for Ben’s in Montreal. However, my Mom and her family, Ukrainian, were from Winnipeg and the smoked and cured meats, holupchis, pierogies, etc, I enjoyed either there or shipped from there far surpass those of the Delis. These places are probably exemplary when starting out as that is how they make their mark. But, after a while as things become standardized things go south. If you are famous for something you only want to make money doing it over and over.

    The Pacific Cafe started out with complimentary wine while you wait as there are no reservations. Some nights a crowd spills out of the foyer onto the sidewalk, all sipping a reasonable local wine. In its early years the fish came straight from the stove to your table. Nothing tastes the same as fish straight from the fire. This demanded a high level of attention by the servers and perhaps more labor. Eventually the food transitioned for a while under the heat lamps on the counter between the open kitchen and the tables. The sauces also got a little heavier and dependent on butter and garlic. I noticed a significant drop in quality as efficiency set in. The food is still worth the trip but not like when the restaurant was garnering attention.

    We used to start out at the Zam Zam on Haight, tip a martini or two with Bruno, move on to the Pacific Cafe, and then back to Bruno’s. The 70’s and 80’s in SF will never be seen again. Now the martinis are dirty and complicated, the food looks more than tastes, and no one with a checkered past can afford to live there. The Zam Zam is no more as Bruno is no more. The present owners are posers and wannabes. If you want a more acerbic rant talk to Auggie Kleinzhaler. He will throw in a complaint about Garrison Keeler on top of it.

    1. The Montreal style deli with the focus on smoked meats seems to be the new trend. Went to one in DC a few times along with one in LA. My favorite deli is Russ&Daughters in NYC. It has been around since 1914 and the focus is on smoked fish.

  10. One more soap opera comedy coming out of NYC?
    No. Say it ain’t so.
    Wonder who will buy the TV rights for this story?
    name suggestions anyone?
    How about:
    “The Death of Ruben”

  11. Phoenix is home of the infamous ABC Bakery which has to be seen to be believed. After it was on TV, people went there to be abuse by the owner. I think they have officially closed now.

  12. Well. her father did not have much vision. He wore glasses and he had sex with the wrong female and had offspring of the wrong kind. This place is in NYC. People get off the boat at Elllis Island there and the non retards move on to other pastures. Those who stay have no ethics or respect for law or order. Those who work at that deli were smelly. Don’t order a mellon at Carnegie.
    NYC: fly over and flush.

    1. I’ve lived in NYC and in CT. There is nothing like NY, though I’ve not been there for 20 years. Especially at Christmas. There is no place better for ingredients from all over the world for home cooks. DeBlasio should work with restraunteurs to keep that landmark open. If Trump wasn’t so busy getting ready to become President he might do it. It’s a landmark worth saving, as long as the food was the same.

  13. It’s a shame that the owner/managers would destroy an iconic restaurant like the Carnegie Deli by engaging in such unsavory and tawdry conduct, driven by cupidity and concupiscence.

    For alternative delis of quality, in addition to the Second Avenue Deli, there’s also Artie’s Delicatessen at
    2290 Broadway, at 82nd St and Katz’s Deli at 205 E. Houston St. (Note: When in NYC, do as the New Yorkers do and pronounce the street like “House-ton,” not “Hues-ton.”)

    And by the way, when JT was served what he called a “chocolate soda” at one his visits to Carnegie Deli, the correct name for this beveridge is an “egg cream.” It’s a classic New York beveridge. But don’t be fooled. The drink doesn’t contain eggs or cream. An egg cream consists of milk, carbonated water, and chocolate syrup, made to order.

    As for Katz’s Deli, the restaurant is also famous for this classic scene with Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan:

    1. I am a transplanted New Yorker, who 35 years ago moved to northeast Ohio.

      I still miss New York pizza, delis, diners , Chinese food, Italian provision markets, and egg creams – they are called ” phosphates” here , but somehow do not taste the same as the New York egg cream, same for pizza, Chinese food, delis and diners – where , in New York and the metropolitan area, you can find one of each on about every corner.

      1. I’m in NE Ohio. I don’t miss the NY filth, the prices, and the neverending hustlers and loudmouths. Like Deb, I like NY pizza, and the water’s superior. I hate the arrogant Yankees and revel in their expensive failures.
        The best diners are Greek, and can be food palaces outside the city in the northeast.
        Our orchestra can beat up anybody’s, but shows its best with guest conductors, including Alan Gilbert.
        My wife sang at Carnegie hall with the orchestra several years ago, and went to the Carnegie deli, which was shabby, roach ridden, and way past its prime. And damnedly expensive. She won’t miss it.

        1. I hate the arrogant Yankees and revel in their expensive failures.

          You’ve outed yourself as a Southerner. There aren’t many Yankee’s in greater New York. People who are non-ethnic are less than 5% of the population of the five boroughs. The last Yankee mayor was John Lindsay, who one his last election in 1969.

        2. Ditto on not missing the filth, traffic, crowds. Would never move back there.
          Greek diners are the best.
          Yes, the people can be arrogant, pushy, loudmouths. But there is a New York sense of humor that I enjoy, to an extent.

          And yes the Cleveland Orchestra, and University Circle museums are wonderful . The Cleveland Museum of Art – free admission – is a jewel.

    2. Sorry for my spelling of “beverage.” One deli that I can recommend without hesitation is the iconic Nat ‘n Al’s. But it’s in Beverly Hills, CA, not Manhattan or Brooklyn. The restaurant has been owned and operated by the same family, the Mendelsons, for generations. You can tell right away that the staff has great respect for the tradition of high quality. Yet, prices are reasonable, especially considering that the deli’s in Beverly Hills.

      The deli also has had many famous patrons over the years and likely will have them in the future, and for the good reasons I’ve mentioned Among the famous diners at Nate ‘n Al’s have been Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Doris Day, Barry Manilow, Larry King, Mike Myers, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jackson, Neil Diamond, Robert Wagner, and too many others to mention.

  14. I dislike recommending some place or another for that very reason. As a child in 1957 we were in that very Deli a true NY Experience for out of towners who lived on 150 acres of woodland in rural Oregon. A previous trip had taken us to the St. Lawrence River and Montreal. Both times we were doing the preferred method of travel to Europe by ship before the days of airline affordability. Both times we hit the deli’s. Better left as a good memory. But then in Eureka, California a similar place on Samoa Island the Cook House suffered the same fate and another Becky’s Union Cafe on the west side of Crater Lake Park and a third on the old highway from Ashland, OR to Klamath Falls. All had some menu item worth driving out of the way. All were run into the ground. The Goal Post in Grand Rapids Minnesota likewise.

    Even the old adage go where the truckers go doesn’t work anymore. But one thing is for sure. You won’t find quality on the freeways or near an airport.

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