The Kensington Deli, which has been a Great Neck fixture since the 1960’s, just might be the kosher equivalent of TV’s Cheers signature description, “where everybody knows your name.”
Amid a constant stream of customers entering the long, narrow compact restaurant at 25A Middle Neck Rd., owner Paul Saberito and his staff seem to greet everyone by their first names and his clients, in turn, return the favor.
That’s exactly the way Saberito likes it, and that type of familiarity and friendliness is what he cites as a big reason behind the deli’s long running success.
“Friendly service,” says Saberito, “is what the sign says,” pointing to the plaque behind the counter, Enter As Strangers, leave as friends. “The secret is in treating our customers the way you would like to be treated when you go out to eat.”
“We have a very loyal customer base and we offer what I think is the finest quality that’s out there,” Saberito adds. “If I don’t have what the best is, I don’t know where it is. Shame on me if it’s out there and I don’t know about it!”
He also attributes his success to longtime employees, Phil Sutton, who serves as manager, Mario Santos and Simon Tkach. Sutton has been with him for 38 years and Santos is in his 34th year with Kensington.
The boss is quite proud of his longtime customer relationships. “What’s interesting is that I’m now seeing kids coming into the store with their own kids,” he says. “Their kids are now at the same age as they were when I first met them years ago. It’s a nice thing to experience.”
“We prepare our own corn beef, our own tongue, bake our own briskets, roast our roast beefs, make our own soups,” continued Saberito, who has been married to his wife, Paula, for 44 years and lives in Dix Hills. “Most of our stuff is hands on. We have high quality bread to go along with all of our offerings.”
Those who visit the kosher deli have a choice of stopping in the front at the takeout counter or sitting in one of several booths or on a stool at the counter. The menu features traditional sandwiches and what the deli calls “extra-heavy combination sandwiches” which offer a choice of two different meats. Side orders available include franks, knishes, French fries and potato salad.
Though the deli has been in the same spot since 1975, few Great Neck residents remember that the restaurant’s original location was by the Shell Station further up Middle Neck Road. Saberito worked there for the original owner, Oscar Rathaus, until a fire destroyed the business. “He wasn’t able to rebuild, so we looked for another location and found this one together,” Saberito explained. “I worked for Oscar when I was a student in high school in his deli in Bayside,” he explained. “I worked my way through college and did a few other things but always gravitated back toward the deli business. I always enjoyed it because I’ve always had a passion for food.”
“Back then the price of a hot dog was about 75 cents, now it’s $3.50. A sandwich was maybe $2 and now they’re upwards of $8 or so.”
Saberito’s signature sandwich is called “Paulie’s Special,” something he came up with 10 years ago. “It’s a baked brisket of beef, which is a prime piece of meat, which is slowly baked about three-and-a-half to four hours, where it’s really tender,” he said. “It’s sliced thin and it’s put on a special roll which we warm. We put an au jus sauce on it and a horse radish sauce which compliments the beef.”
Among the deli’s regular customers is TV personality and author, Bill O’Reilly. The late comedian Alan King often visited and Saberito remembers him fondly. “He mentioned us years ago when he did an interview,” Saberito recalled. “His remark about us was that when he was young, he couldn’t afford a corned beef sandwich. And now he’s at an age where it’s not good for him. But he always enjoyed coming in for the corned beef.”