SCHENECTADY — Liverwurst, corned beef, turkey, pastrami, salami, meatloaf and ham—that’s not just chopped liver on a delicatessen menu.
Chopped liver, with sliced egg, shows up later on the schedule at Gershon’s. The celebrated kosher-style deli on Union Street in Schenectady has been serving soups, sandwiches and salads for 65 years.
Sisters Toni Nelson and Bridget Battease are keeping the ovens hot and the coolers cold. While some restaurants open, close and fade away, Nelson and Battease are always thinking about ways to please existing customers and bring new ones to the front counter—and make sure Gershon’s tradition and reputation remain solid.
“We’ve been bringing in some new products, things that have like a New York City influence,” Nelson said, as a busy Tuesday lunch shift ended. “People have asked for Halva, it’s a Jewish candy, we’ve always had a really hard time finding it. We’re importing some things from New York. We have some espresso soda we’re getting in now, an assortment of jams and new mustards and things like that.”
Nelson said trends can play a part in the deli’s game plan.
“We’ll never take anything off the menu and we won’t change the things that are on the menu,” she said. “But we can add new things. We’ll try to offer gluten-free options, different vegetarian options, just try to keep it very fresh.”
Egg salad sandwiches will always have a place on the menu. So will grilled chicken breast sandwiches on a French roll—with teriyaki, pesto, Buffalo and Italian among the flavor options. The Italian mix, French dip, Reuben and turkey-bacon triple decker are staying right where they are now.
Gershon’s hot pastrami on rye with homemade cole slaw and potato pancakes, with applesauce.
Nelson and Battease took over the Gershon’s tradition shortly after their father—longtime owner Tony Lauria—passed away in September 2016. The co-owners have kept their father’s formula for success, and that formula includes mayonnaise, sliced hot cherry peppers, pickles, coleslaw, mushrooms, sardines (in olive oil), extra onions and plenty of potato chips on the side.
Irv and Lena Gershon opened their deli on Union in 1954. Business boomed, and the Gershons decided they needed a larger space. They moved across the street in 1956 and set up the current restaurant, located at the corner of Lakewood Avenue.
The business won bunches of customers who wanted to place orders at a New York-style Jewish deli. The Gershons eventually began a catering business and in 1973 sold the place to their nephew, Bob Lessner. In 1985, Lessner later sold the business to longtime Gershon’s employee Lauria, who first ran the deli with business partner Lou Gregory. Gregory retired in 2009.
The deli will make and move as many as 500 sandwiches a day. More bread and meats will be used as the weather becomes warmer and people visit the deli’s outdoor patio. Nelson said office orders keep the deli’s catering division busy.
The business tries to offer foods for all tastes. Vegans might be interested in the Portobello mushroom sandwich. “And we have some nice vegan wraps,” she said.
A change in seasons will bring some small changes to Gershon’s. The fall and winter soup schedule will drop from two offered daily to one. Salads such as the heirloom tomato mozzarella will move in for the warmer weather. The summer items show up May 1.
Nelson said she will also be investing in the restaurant’s front end. The deli coolers have been on the job for 30 years, and will soon be cooled off.
More from Dine 2019: Schenectady County
- Scotti’s the stop for Italian on Schenectady’s Union Street
- The Bear’s: A “royal” dining experience in Duanesburg
- Dukes gives Schenectady steak and seafood in casino setting
- Mad Jack brews, cooks and plays its own tune in Schenectady
- From farm to table at Colonie’s Field Notes at Lansing’s Farm
“We’re going to be doing a little remodeling here in the next couple months where we’re going to be replacing the deli cases,” Nelson said. “Which is a big deal to me because I feel like it’s a member of my family I have to lose.”
Gershon’s employees 27 people and is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. Saturday hours are 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. The business is close on Sunday.
Nelson said some things will change as people exchange sweaters and sweats for sandals and shorts.
“A big thing we see in the shift from winter to summer is a lot more people will order our vegetable sandwiches,” she said. “We have a nice, grilled eggplant sandwich with roasted red peppers and mozzarella. People will order that a lot more … they’ll order lighter options.”
Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]