After being dormant for so long, the parking lot at Jack’s Delicatessen on Bustleton Avenue and Tustin Street in the Northeast is jammed again.
The usual sparse weekday lunch crowd is bustling. Old faces who haven’t come around for ages are showing up.
So what’s going on?
Eddie Mutchnick can explain it.
“I’ll give you the word,” said the man who opened the place along with his father in 1966. “It’s a feeling that came from my father, hamishshticka. It’s a Jewish word that means home-like.
“We created a business that lasted 52 years and have had all these people come here from so far away. Every time they would come in, they’d come to Jack’s. I made them feel like this was their home. That was the feeling my father always wanted them to have.”
On June 4, Jack’s will close, the latest in a line of delis and Jewish-owned businesses to fall victim to demographic changes in the Northeast. But while the restaurant will be gone, the business itself will endure.
Jack’s corporate catering, which has sustained it the past few years while the restaurant and deli struggled, will soon set up shop in The Buck Hotel in Feasterville.
“I was given their name because people said, ‘They’re your kind of people — straight shooters — and they’ll respect you,’” said Mutchnick, who’ll be bringing over seven of his 35 employees. “‘We know you’ll respect everybody,’ because I always have.
“The plan is for me to go there and do corporate catering and, in the very near future, sometime this fall once I get organized, to put the deli in there.”
Eventually, he hopes to expand that to serve eggs in the morning and corned beef at lunch, but knows it won’t be the same. Maybe people will make the trip to check out the new place, but it won’t have that same hamishshticka feel.
“I’m heartbroken,” said Natalie Rosenberg, one of the few who’s remained a regular customer. “It wasn’t just another restaurant. It was just like home here — a place to come and meet people and see your friends.”
“It’s horrible,” added Shirley Feingold. “We’re gonna miss it. Another Jewish place closing.”
Indeed, there have been so many.
“The demographics changed,” said Mutchnick, who helped out his dad as a teenager when the store was located on Wadsworth Avenue in Mount Airy, before it moved here. “There must’ve been synagogues in the Northeast. Now there’s just a few.
“Going up and down Castor and Bustleton avenues, there had to be dozens of delis. We catered and gave them the best quality money could buy. Everyone up and down Castor and Bustleton did the same thing, because we were in the Northeast, all the Jewish people were here and we wanted them to have the best.
“I’m the last of an era. It’s a shame.”
And when Jack’s closes its doors, it will impact a lot of people, such as longtime waitress Renee Applegate.
“It’s sad,” she said, “because it’s like losing a family.
“I just found out last Friday. It’s unexpected to say two weeks and you’re done after 14 years. I used to manage stores. This is the only waitress job I’ve ever had. Now I’ve got to find a job.”
Cashier Meghan Macklin is more fortunate.
“It’s not as busy as when I started four years ago,” said Macklin, who’ll be joining Mutchnick and longtime store manager Perry Rottenberg at The Buck Hotel. “Over the last couple of years it just died down. I guess the neighborhood changed. But I love it here.”
That feeling seemed universal.
“I started going to Jack’s when it was on Wadsworth Avenue,” recalled Bonnie Kanefsky of Elkins Park. “I had to come for onion rings. Nobody else makes onion rings and fried whitefish like theirs.”
“I’ve been here since opening day,” Arnold Korsick said. “This was a vacant lot. They were giving away midget salamis, some of which I think they still have hanging up. It’s very nostalgic.”
That’s especially true for Mutchnick, who’s run the place with his retiring brother, Alan. Jack was their father. Their mother, Sylvia, was the cashier.
“I have a lot of ambivalent feelings,” Mutchnick said. “It’s a bittersweet situation.
“I’m happy I’m going to take my catering business and keep it going. But I also have to look back at 52 years being here. It’s a lifetime. I built this store when I was 22 years old with my father. My whole life has been here.”
Not only have former customers returned, but so have many prior employees.
“The kids used to work here who grew up to become doctors and lawyers — this was their beginning,” Mutchnick said. “They worked here when they were 15 years old. I got a call from Jakarta, Indonesia, from a bus boy who worked here.
“It was the first job he had. Now he’s with a giant computer company. It shows this left such a lasting impression. Growing up Jewish in the Northeast, Jack’s was a part of it. I am so grateful for that.”
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I’m going to miss Jack’s because I won’t be able to use it as a landmark to tell people where I live anymore. Maybe they could close the restaurant but keep the sign.
It is sad. It was a great deli.
I was the Busboy, Eddie mentioned.
Jonathan Kine, Jakarta