Three staff keep the legacy of a Toronto deli alive

A server, a cook and a meat slicer.

Those were the long-time positions of three employees at Center Street Deli before they banded together to keep the Jewish deli’s legacy alive.

“I thought the three of us would know a little of every department and could work together to keep it going,” co-owner Nana Grande told CTV News Toronto.

In late 2014, when the former owners were eyeing retirement, Grande formed a coalition with two fellow employees, Kuna Thavapalan and Ganesh Thangarajah, who had both worked at the Thorn Hill institution since it opened in 1988.

For Grande, it’s their dedication to legacy and longevity that keeps the doors of their corner strip mall spot on Center Street near New Westminster Drive swinging open with generations of loyals seeking comfort in smoked meat on rye bread.

Since then, other delis deemed institutions in Toronto like Katz’s and Yitz’s have closed up shop, diminishing the city’s supply of corned beef with a healthy side of coleslaw and pickles.

“I want the next generation to know their background, to pass on those matzah balls, those traditions of the bubbie,” Grande said.

In 1988, Center Street Deli opened in Thorn Hill on Center Street near New Westminster Drive (CTV News Toronto/ Corey Baird)Over the years, only one item has been added to their menu – poutine. But most regulars keep visiting the deli for its old fashioned smoked meat, which is made in Montreal and sliced ​​in shop.

“We are old school,” Grande said. “You can’t change the old traditions of cooking.”

The Grande dishes grew up on in Israel, like chopped liver and borscht soup, were heavily influenced by Eastern European ancestry. When she immigrated to Canada, that homage to her heritage traveled overseas with her.

Beyond food, the establishment itself is an artifact of the neighborhood’s transformation. In just over 30 years, Center Street Deli has witnessed the growth of Thorn Hill sprawling along the northern border of Toronto. A mural at the deli – illustrating a cow wearing a yellow hard hat and holding a blueprint – captures the essence of that evolution.

Through the decades, Center Street Deli has stood sturdy for its customers. Even, most recently, during stretches of time when customers could not gather at the local watering hole to indulge in comfort food when they needed it most.

In 1988, Center Street Deli opened in Thorn Hill on Center Street near New Westminster Drive (CTV News Toronto/ Corey Baird)
While the deli has been forced to pause its dinner time hours, faced with the industry plague of understaffing, the three owners hands-on approach has proven advantageous at a critical time. “I’m a cashier, I’m a waitress, I cut meat,” she said.

As customers return to their routine Friday lunch and Sunday brunch rituals, as Grande put it, “Slowly but surely, we will go back.”

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