Not even the pandemic could stop Liebman’s Delicatessen from keeping its title as the last remaining Jewish deli in the Bronx and now the deli owner is setting his sights on Westchester for expansion.
Liebman’s owner Yuval Dekel is partnering with Craig Weitz to open a new location in Addyman Square, Ardsley this fall.
Dekel said customers can expect a similar setup and menu at both locations. The Westchester location will have an abbreviated menu at first to make the opening easier. Dekel, a former Riverdale resident, has lived in Westchester since just prior to pandemic.
“We want to provide something more than just fill a void,” Dekel said. “We want to be able to put the county on the map and say, ‘Hey, this is a place where a really good Jewish deli exists and one that’s survived seven decades in the Bronx and now we’re going to kind of look to our north a bit and see if we can replicate that up there.’”
Liebman’s Deli first opened in 1953 by Joe Liebman and was later acquired by the late Joseph Dekel in 1980. Joseph had to learn the deli culture firsthand since he grew up in Israel where the deli culture doesn’t exist.
According to Dekel, his father was very well-regarded in the neighborhood and known to run a tight ship in the deli.
Dekel came from a divorced home, growing up in the north and south side of Riverdale and in the suburbs of Long Island with his mother. He attended Kinneret Day School and John F. Kennedy High School. He briefly went to CUNY New York City College of Technology for hospitality management, but his focus was steered to being a musician.
Dekel’s metal band, Irate, described as a hardcore heavy “death metal thing” was founded on 254th Street on Arlington Avenue in Riverdale at his father’s house. He was a drummer for the band from 1996 to 2006. They toured locally in Riverdale, then Canada, Europe and Japan. He played in the band while simultaneously working as a bread baker.
When Dekel’s father passed away in 2002, he began running Liebman’s. He had the advantage of growing up in the deli culture, but nevertheless learned a lot from being thrust into the business as a 24-year-old. What was once a deli he eye-rolled at and rebelled against when younger, became to him an “awesomely cool” place that others have tried to recreate.
Like many restaurants, the pandemic was a challenge for Liebman’s when it had to close the dining rooms and limit capacity.
The uncertainty surrounding the pandemic was nerve-wracking. Dekel credits Goldbelly takeout delivery service with potentially preventing the business from reaching the brink of closing.
“My wife and I kind of looked at each other at one point,” Dekel said, “and said you know even when everyone’s suffering and not working—and that’s not a good thing I’m saying —but we don’t even get a break either. It’s like now we’re almost working harder than before.”
Dekel saw a deterioration in quality of life and character in the city since the pandemic and sought out suburbs for his family. He and his wife spent a lot of time in Westchester, whether it be to go to Wholefoods in White Plains or the mall in Cross County, so it made sense to move there. He also wanted some separation from Riverdale after working there for 20 years.
Ironically, he is opening a new Liebman’s five minutes from his home. Dekel saw potential for new businesses beyond the pandemic. Weitz, a former Riverdale resident and frequent Liebman’s Deli customer, was a big influence on Dekel’s decision to expand Liebman’s.
“He definitely emphasized his belief and confidence that Liebman’s would in fact succeed in Westchester, in particular Ardsley,” Dekel said of his partner who has lived in Westchester for over a decade.
The new deli is in the early stage of the build-out with equipment still being ordered, according to Dekel. Framing is complete and electrical and plumbing work continues. He is considering utilizing an outdoor cooking area in the rear of the restaurant using a charcoal grill during the warm months.
Dekel says some of the challenges of the new location is splitting time, hiring proper staff, and replicating the reputation from Riverdale.
He anticipates an Oct. 1 opening, but nothing is set in stone. As much as Dekel would like to take advantage of the business that comes from upcoming Jewish holidays, first impressions and reputation are more important to him.
Dekel is proud of the recognition Liebman’s received from the media and thanks Riverdale residents for keeping the deli alive. He assures residents that Liebman’s Deli in Riverdale is not closing anytime soon, noting that he just spent $40,000 on a new air condition system.
“It makes me proud to think that if my dad were to walk in now,” Dekel said, “he’d be in shock of the fact that it’s still here, the fact that we’re growing the business, that we’ve shipped nationwide.”