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Rubin’s may not have served its last knish

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Rubin’s employee Henry Sanchez took a moment to take in the scene on what may have been the deli’s last day in business after nearly 90 years.Jonathan Wiggs

BROOKLINE — Rumors that Rubin's Kosher Delicatessen has served its last hot pastrami sandwich may be premature.

Many longtime customers went to the landmark kosher deli Friday thinking it was their last chance to eat the kugel, potato knishes, and corned beef that Rubin's has been serving for nearly 90 years.

A post published late Thursday on Rubin's Facebook page said the deli was closing Friday afternoon. Owner Allen Gellerman said he made the decision at 4 p.m. Thursday.

"Priorities in your life change," the 53-year-old Gellerman said. "I don't want it on my gravestone: 'He made a great corned beef sandwich.' "


But people who keep kosher, take heart. Gellerman has sold the deli to an investor who says keeping Rubin's open is part of his family's plan to help the Jewish community in Greater Boston.

Jonathan Wiggs

The new owner, David Danesh, said he grew up on Rubin's brisket sandwich and fondly recalls meeting New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and legendary Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach there.

He said he is negotiating with potential operators to run the deli, but has not finalized plans.

"We're doing the best we can to help save Rubin's," said Danesh, who completed a deal to buy the business and its Harvard Street property earlier this week.

Danesh said the Gellermans opted to sell Rubin's to him after they rebuffed offers from condominium developers.

"I saved Rubin's from being knocked down and turned into condos," he said. "I love the food. I love the history."

That history dates back to 1927, when Morris Rubin, an immigrant from present-day Lithuania, decided the neighborhood around Congregation Kehillath Israel was perfect for opening a deli, said his granddaughter, Shuly Rubin Schwartz.

At the time, Brookline was not the Jewish enclave it is today and Congregation Kehillath Israel's synagogue on Harvard Street was only a few years old.


Rubin ran the business and his sister, Bessie Cohen, ran the kitchen, preparing chicken, knishes, and a garnish known as soup nuts for customers.

The deli sold meats from Morrison & Schiff, a kosher foods purveyor in Boston, and had a refrigerated case for cheese and milk, Rubin Schwartz said. It moved twice, but never left Harvard Street.

"It became a gathering place for the Jews of Boston," said Rubin Schwartz, a historian who lives in New York. "It was the only kosher restaurant in Boston for decades."

Rubin got up at 4 a.m. daily to work at the deli and ran the business until he was in his 80s, Rubin Schwartz said. He employed many neighborhood teenagers, but had different ambitions for his children, she said.

Two sons became rabbis and another forged a career in social work. In 1974, Rubin sold the deli to his cousin, Muriel Grupp, and her husband, Carl.

Allen Gellerman said he bought the business in 1996, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who was a kosher butcher in Poland.

"They insisted they were only going to sell it to someone who was going to keep it kosher," said Gellerman, who is the son of Holocaust survivors.

The deli has maintained its kosher roots. Sam Schlossberg, a kosher food supervisor from the Rabbinical Council of New England, spends 30 to 35 hours at the deli each week, making sure all the food is prepared in accordance with Jewish law.


"Kosher food is a cornerstone of Jewish life," Schlossberg said. "It's really a community institution."

Gellerman said he worked at the deli during the day while his wife covered the night shift. Their business was a destination for first dates, business lunches, family dinners, and celebrity clients like singer Cher, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, and actor Kelsey Grammer, he said.

"I enjoyed the people. The camaraderie we've had," said Gellerman, who lives in Easton. "It wasn't just a restaurant. It's a landmark."

His daughter, Brittany, said the deli was a second home to her and her brother. When she went to college, Brittany said, trips home usually started with matzoh ball soup and a turkey sandwich at Rubin's.

"It's going to be weird not having this place to stop in and say hi," said Brittany Gellerman, 21, an incoming senior at George Washington University.

Hafeezah Bell of Roxbury said she likes Rubin's meats because the kosher preparation is similar to what is prescribed by Islam's dietary laws.

"I love reuben sandwiches, and they make the best reuben sandwiches," said Bell, who stopped by after hearing Rubin's would close. "Very tasty."

Leandro Oliveira, the deli's head chef, said he prefers the pastrami, which is unheard of in his native Brazil.

"Corned beef, pastrami, or brisket, we don't have that over there. We don't do it," said Oliveira, who is planning to open an Italian restaurant in Easton.

Joyce Ann Caico has been a waitress at Rubin's for 38 years. She said it's a job she doesn't want to give up.


"I loved it," she said. "I still love it."

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.