Oy vey! Rosen’s Deli closes after Westbrook move fails to overcome financial woes

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WESTBROOK — Rosen’s Deli, the only Jewish-style deli in greater Portland, has closed.

The restaurant, which was at 650 Main St., closed in February with no notice, almost two years after moving to Westbrook and about 1 1/2 years after owners David and Arren Rosen filed for bankruptcy protection.

“Lots of factors contributed to our decision to close Rosen’s Deli,” Arren Rosen said in a Facebook message Tuesday morning. “We are thankful to all the great people we’ve met over the years and will miss our supportive community very much.”

Before moving to Westbrook in May 2015, the deli, then known as the Full Belly Deli, was in Portland. After 28 years of business, the Rosens closed the Brighton Avenue restaurant in January 2015 after rent became too expensive.

The five months it took to find a new spot in Westbrook resulted in “zero cash flow” for the Rosens, Westbrook City Administrator Jerre Bryant said. The owners spoke with City Clerk Angela Holmes by phone last week to confirm they were out of business after the city’s code enforcement officer noticed a “closed” sign at the deli.

Bryant said it didn’t help that the customer base in Westbrook was smaller than what the Rosens had in Portland.

“They were hoping their customers would follow them to Westbrook, and some did, but the Westbrook location didn’t end up making enough revenue to stay viable,” Bryant said.

The Rosens, who are represented by attorney Barry Schklair of Molleur Law Office, filed in October 2015 for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which would have allowed them to repay debts over several years. But last November the case was converted to a Chapter 7 liquidation; on Feb. 14, the court issued an order to sell the Rosens’ assets to pay off creditors.

In their initial filing, the Rosens listed assets of up to $50,000 and liabilities of $100,000-$500,000. Schklair and other attorneys at Molleur Law didn’t respond to several requests for additional comment.

The loss of greater Portland’s only Jewish-style deli is likely to be felt by many, whether they’re Jewish or not. Chef Wilfred Beriau, president of the Portland branch of the American Culinary Federation, said the deli will be missed.

“I think it’s pretty significant,” he said. “I feel as though it’s a terrible thing.”

Beriau, a former culinary professor at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, said Rosen’s Deli and its predecessors added to the “varied cultural nature in Portland.” He said the loss of the deli will leave a hole.

“People are going to be asking, ‘Can I get corned beef? Can I get pastrami?'” Beriau said. “Other places may try to fill that niche. What the market wants it gets.”

Full Belly Deli got its start at George’s Deli, which operated in Portland’s Monument Square for more than 40 years. That deli’s owner, George Bress, helped the Rosens start the Full Belly Deli after his restaurant closed.

Joan Levy, president of Temple Beth El in Portland, said the Jewish community will miss having a local deli.

“As someone who grew up here, I think it’s very sad,” she said. “We haven’t been without a Jewish deli for some time. That’s something that any Jewish family in Portland had a history with.”

Although Levy said “with each version (of the deli) the authenticity decreased,” Rosen’s still filled a need in the Jewish community. The deli was known for its large sandwiches, piled high with pastrami and corned beef. Although it wasn’t kosher, it offered traditional Jewish dishes such as knishes, chopped liver, matzo ball soup and beef tongue.

“It was a way of getting in touch with our past,” Levy said. “They were foods our ancestors ate.”

Levy said Rosen’s Deli “was beyond its glory days,” but was still very important to the people who went there. She said it was warm and inviting, and provided food options for traditional Jewish events.

“A lot of this food has to do with Jewish celebrations,” Levy said. “Right now there’s absolutely no place to get that.”

The deli also offered a place for Jews to gather and feel connected with each other and with their roots.

“Since the Jewish population is a minority in the United States, it gave us a sense of community,” Levy said.

Beriau said the Portland area has many ethnic food options and not having a Jewish-style deli will have a negative impact.

“We are rich in cultural heritage in America,” he said. “This is a piece of culture the greater Portland area will miss.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Rosen’s Deli at 650 Main St. in Westbrook has closed after moving to the city from Portland in May 2015.

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I’m a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I’m from a small town in NH no one’s ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.

  • TruthHurts

    $9 for a basic sammie with a pickle is what killed this place…that and the LOOOONG LINES

    • Scott Harriman

      I agree. I went once and found the food delicious, but quite overpriced.

      • EdBeem

        I will miss Rosen’s. Can’t get a corned beef and swiss on a roll anywhere near as good anywhere in Greater Portland and can’t find chopped liver on marble rye anywhere else. I have paid $9 for sandwiches at delis that did not have half the meat. This is a great loss.

        • Chew H Bird

          And that is about going rate for a decent sandwich at a good deli… I stopped at Reins Deli in Vernon CT the other day and their prices were even higher…

    • Goose

      It costs that much to get a good sandwich with high quality deli meat on it. The actual problem is that most Mainers appear to prefer “italians” which are salads disguised as sandwiches. They were trying to provide a New York style deli experience to a crowd of people that didn’t really care for it.

  • Kevin McCarthy

    Even though political correctness may be passe, open expressions of bigotry are not just ugly… they pretty much paint the articulator as a total and complete idiot whose opinions don’t merit space or time.

    • EdBeem

      “less jewey prices” made me cringe. If I were the editor, I would probably delete this post. And the prices were fine for the quantity and quality of the sandwiches. An Italian with one slice of boiled ham in it costs more than $5. Rosen’s sandwiches had piles of corned beef and pastrami. Worth every penny.

      • Kevin McCarthy

        It would be interesting to know who deleted the original comment and the first sentence of your response to me.

        • EdBeem

          I assume the editor. It was anti-Semitic.

    • Kevin McCarthy

      I guess the truth hurts. Right, TruthHurts? An apology would have been appropriate combined with deleting your comment.