RE: Wolfie Cohen's Rascal House Days Numbered
Fri, 04/4/08 5:57 PM
This was in the NY Times ( Miami being a lost part of NYC) on 4/1/08 ( and I don't think it was April Fool's story):
April 1, 2008
Sunny Isles Beach Journal
A Deli Destination, Now a Pastrami-Scented Memory
By DAMIEN CAVE
SUNNY ISLES BEACH, Fla. — Elaine Rothman could hardly believe her eyes. Two construction workers tearing up one of Rascal House’s old red booths? The kitchen of her favorite deli being drilled to pieces? It was almost too much for a not-so-young lady in a hot-pink T-shirt to take.
“People used to come here and have vacations and eat,” Mrs. Rothman said, staring at a fresh set of condominium towers across Collins Avenue at 172nd Street. “Now, it’s all big money, honey. You know what I’m talking about.”
Jason Starkman knew. He and his family were the culprits, the rascals some might say, who decided that after 54 years, Rascal House had to close. And like a patient rabbi, he listened to Mrs. Rothman quietly, nodding, smiling, familiar with her complaints. After owning the restaurant for 11 years, he knew that all the kibitzing was just a form of saying goodbye.
“We love it ourselves,” he said. “We waited until the last possible moment.”
As it turns out, Mrs. Rothman’s assessment was just about right. The area where Wolfie Cohen opened Rascal House and his other long-gone deli restaurants is indeed a world away from its past.
Rascal House’s reliable customer base, made up mainly of Jewish New Yorkers who came for the winter, has been shrinking for decades. Here and in Miami Beach a few miles south, roughly two-thirds of residents speak a language other than English at home, according to the 2000 census. And the younger newcomers — often from South America and Europe — have proved far less interested in items like pastrami or potato pancakes.
Stir in a shrinking economy and you have what Mr. Starkman calls a need for “newer stuff.” He said he plans to open a second branch of Epicure, a gourmet market his family owns in South Beach, on the Rascal House site by September.
Mrs. Rothman seemed unimpressed. “Epicure, I love the food, don’t get me wrong,” she said. “But this place — you can’t replace it.”
On Sunday night, the final corned beef rolled out of the Rascal House kitchen. The “last supper,” as some patrons called it, brought a burst of lines and long waits reminiscent of the restaurant’s heyday.
Monday felt more like a funeral.
Mrs. Rothman was one of dozens who stopped by to stare in the windows through cupped hands or buy some small piece of the restaurant they loved.
Demolition had begun. The city had selected a booth and decorations to keep for posterity. A half-dozen workers moved furniture, cut through equipment and discussed who would get the TVs.
The red counter stools were empty. Wide plastic menus sold for $25 each. Platters once full of food cost $5.
The restaurant’s more famous items were priced like antiques. That large photo of Jackie Gleason, young, arms wide, smiling on Miami Beach; it cost $2,500, according to the tag. The restaurant’s interior signs with the Rascal logo ran too high for Mrs. Rothman’s budget at $5,000 each. She said she had hoped to pay $500.
Ken Joyce, 70, a law professor in Buffalo who always ordered the corned beef, said he was deciding whether to buy a board with a Damon Runyon quotation: “As I see it, there are two kinds of people in this world; people who love delis, and people you shouldn’t associate with.” It was $250, even though the “it” had fallen off.
“This was the place that as soon as we got off the plane, we’d come here,” Mr. Joyce said. “I probably ate here three times in the last four days.”
His face was sunburned. He was carrying a black-and-white plastic sign for parties of two, harking back to a time when waits for a table could last hours. At $50, he figured it was a good deal.
His wife, Rita, 71, had already bought a few pictures and several platters. She said they would give many of the items to their son or other relatives.
That seemed to be the trend.
Those who came back on Monday seemed to be searching for more than knickknacks. Many were buying for relatives, part of fond Rascal House memories — long dinners, countless cups of coffee, the buzz of a restaurant that smells awake and alive at sunup.
Mrs. Rothman, who was buying for her brother-in-law, Richie Weinstein, remembered happily waiting more than an hour for her party of 10 relatives to be seated.
Mrs. Joyce said there were too many memories to count. “To me, it’s saying goodbye to my parents and my uncle’s generation,” she said. “They’re the ones who brought us here.”
And on Monday, there seemed to be no going back. Mr. Starkman said that he would recreate some Rascal House items at the gourmet market, but that the local palate had moved on.
Indeed, at one point, a man in a flowered shirt asked Mr. Starkman a simple question: “So is there anyplace to get something to eat around here?”
Mr. Starkman smiled. “You like Peruvian food?”