Saratoga Springs

Heaping Helpings: Saratoga Springs’ Broadway Deli found ways in pandemic to feed children, families in need

Saratoga’s Broadway Deli owner Daniel Chessare prepares an egg sandwich for a customer during lunch service in Saratoga Springs
Saratoga’s Broadway Deli owner Daniel Chessare prepares an egg sandwich for a customer during lunch service in Saratoga Springs

SARATOGA SPRINGS – If you’re in Saratoga and looking for latkes for breakfast, or beef tongue or chopped liver on rye for lunch, you’ve really only got one choice.

Saratoga’s Broadway Deli at 420 Broadway is in the heart of a downtown that will bustle again, up an alley and around the corner from Kilwins confectionary and the Northshire Bookstore. It is the only Jewish-oriented delicatessen in a city in which the term “deli” most often brings to mind an Italian-themed sandwich shop that features sub rolls and cold cuts.

“We are the only game in town when it comes to this sort of food,” said owner Daniel Chessare, who started Broadway Deli in June of 2018 and has seen its business steadily grow.

As an establishment based primarily on takeout sandwiches, the deli was able to remain open throughout last year’s COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, although those limitations shuttered more traditional sit-down restaurants throughout the city, state and country. Chessare quickly realized the right thing to do was give something back — like sandwiches — to those in need.

“At the beginning of the pandemic when everything else was canceled, we stayed open to provide free lunches to kids who were out of school and weren’t getting [school] lunches, and families that were out of work,” he said. “We stayed open the whole way through.”

Then, around Thanksgiving, he decided the deli would offer free roasted chickens to those who needed food during the holiday season, and he announced it on Facebook. The gesture garnered local publicity and even a national piece on the CBS Evening News, and Perdue Farms offered to donate the needed chickens. In the end, Chessare said, about 200 chickens were roasted and donated to local residents.

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In the spirit of the holidays, Mattel, meanwhile, donated a giant box of toys to the deli — far more than the 40-year-old single father needed — and they were left out under the deli’s Hanukkah tree for people to take.

Years of experience
Even if the burst of publicity was the first time most people had heard of Chessare, he’s been working in the city’s restaurant industry for more than 20 years.

His family moved from New Jersey to Saratoga Springs when he was 16, and he graduated from high school here after spending two years participating in the BOCES culinary arts program. It was in high school that he entered the restaurant industry, bussing tables at Little India, an Indian restaurant that at the time was on Broadway. (It is now on Court Street.)

From there, Chessare moved on to the former Professor Moriarty’s on Broadway, where he began cooking, then on to Scallion’s, where he spent more than nine years in the kitchen. He later became sous chef at the Wine Bar and eventually head chef at the Merry Monk. But in 2017, he decided he needed a break, given the high-pressure environment of a downtown Saratoga Springs restaurant kitchen.

“I took a year off to recoup after 16 years of kitchen work without a vacation, but when I wanted to go back I realized there was no one else I wanted to work for,” he said.

And Chessare realized that while a significant percentage of people in Saratoga Springs and the surrounding area know what a high-quality New York Jewish deli is, there was nowhere in Saratoga offering the Manhattan deli staples: matzo ball soup, knishes and eveything else that goes with the Jewish deli experience. Gershon’s, the venerable institution on upper Union Street in Schenectady, is really the Capital Region’s only other primarily Jewish deli. (Gershon’s has a more extensive menu.)

At his small deli, which is only open for breakfast and lunch, Chessare is drawing on what he learned from his Jewish stepmother, as well as from his father and his birth mother, who is Italian, and from a family that includes bakers and other food industry workers. The breads are baked on the premises and meats are also roasted on site — plus there is an array of desserts, with “black-and-white” cookies a staple.

Chessare said he grew up familiar with both Christian and Jewish foods and cultural traditions. “We were raised with Hanukkah and Christmas, and Passover and Easter,” he said.

The deli isn’t Jewish enough for some people, he acknowledged, but has established its niche around staples of the lunch sandwich trade such as Reubens, hot pastrami and smoked salmon. It has giant dill pickles that come with a sandwich. But it isn’t kosher — ham and bacon are on the menu.

Online, citizen reviewers have offered praise and said they haven’t experienced many places like Broadway Deli outside of New York City.

With the end of more than a year of pandemic restrictions in sight, Chessare is looking forward to strong spring and summer seasons. “Last Saturday we had our best day ever, so things are looking pretty good,” he said at the end of March.
Chessare has a staff of six part-time employees, all of whom he expected would be fully vaccinated by the end of April.

During the summer tourist season, those employees work full time. As long as the weather cooperates, a large outdoor patio will have customer seating to accompany the half-dozen indoor tables.

With a brother who is an epidemiologist in Massachusetts, Chessare said he has had access to testing supplies for his employees, and none ever had COVID.

During tourist season, the deli’s location shares a pop-up fine-dining dining restaurant called “Amuse” on Friday and Saturday nights, from 5 to 9 p.m., headed by chef Dominic Colose, another veteran of the Saratoga restaurant scene. Amuse offers full table service and Middle Eastern-themed food.

Saratoga’s Broadway Deli is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days per week, with hours sometimes extended in the summer. It also offers catering.

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