Lunchtime road trip to Worcester, anyone? Helfand’s Deli opens on Thursday, Oct. 27. The Jewish deli specializes in pastrami sandwiches and knishes.
Worcester native Matt Goldstein runs the restaurant with his dad, Carl, 68, who also grew up in Worcester and is a longtime city accountant. He has fond memories of long-gone delis in the Water Street neighborhood, such as Weintraub’s and Maury’s.
“They’ve all closed in the past few years, and it’s always been a passion or a want of ours to bring something back to the city,” Matt says. “[We] decided to bring a little bit of that Jewish culture back.”
“Weintraub’s actually catered my bar mitzvah. When they closed three or four years ago, it was a real blow to my stomach,” Carl says. “They had a sister deli called Sampson’s, but I always went to Weintraub’s. I went to Maury’s on occasion. Down the road was Lederman’s Bakery. I’d make the rounds; get the cookies at Lederman’s for my children, go to Widoff’s for baked goods, then Weintraub’s for cut meats. And I’d have them make me a bologna sandwich that I’d eat on the way home.”
Fitting for a man with a long culinary memory, Carl also has a fondness for elephants, hence the Helfand’s name. “Helfand” means “elephant” in Yiddish, a symbol of luck and propserity.
“If you look at my office today, you’d see about 500 elephants. For the last 45 years, people have been sending me elephants from all over the world,” he says. “It’s about the strength and fortitude of the structure, and the name looks great on the wall.”
Mike Sobel is the head chef. He’s another Worcester local, a former cook at Assumption College, and Matt’s longtime friend.
“We’re brining our own pastrami, which is a week-long process: steaming it, cooking it. We’ll have corned beef, roast beef. Our go-to is obviously going to be the pastrami or corned beef on rye, kind of the standard, like Katz’s in New York. If you’ve ever been there, it’s similar,” Matt says. “Then we’re going to have Reubens, all the fixings, potato latkes and knishes—and a few non-Jewish items, like steak and cheese.”
Matt and Carl hope they truly become known for melt-in-your-mouth pastrami on rye, though.
“Nobody around here does that. I think there’s Michael’s Deli in Boston. We’re trying to be a little bit different for the area,” Matt says.
They’ll also sell cold-cuts by the pound and offer catering, and there’s room inside the deli for business meetings. (Carl plans to use the space for his accounting firm, and hopes other business owners follow suit.)
Customer service is also a focus. Carl’s accounting employees are each required to read “Inside the Magic Kingdom: Seven Keys to Disney’s Success.” Deli employees now do the same.
So might this become the Disney World of Jewish deli?
“We just hope that it brings a little bit of the Jewish culture back in the city, because I think it’s definitely lacking or missing: feel-good, warm Jewish food,” Matt says.
It’s open daily from 11 a.m.
Visit Helfand’s Deli at 143 Highland St., Worcester.