'I feel the loss': After 47 years in business, customers bid farewell to Yitz's deli
Owner of midtown joint retiring to spend more time with his grandchildren
Like many, Rick Penciner, 54, says Yitz's deli was a second home for him and his family. But unlike others, it really was.
His father, Yitz Penciner, was the original owner of the restaurant-style bakery, established in 1972. He sold it to Barry Silver in 2001.
"When we heard that they were closing... it kind of struck me and my siblings," Rick Penciner told CBC Toronto Sunday.
From bus boy to server, he and his siblings were trained to do every role, and all spent many hours at their father's popular joint, located near Eglinton and Avenue roads. Yitz Penciner died in 2013.
His son is just one of countless people who had to say goodbye to the bakery, which closed its doors for good on Sunday.
Yitz's, described as an old-school Jewish bakery, was located near Eglinton and Avenue roads.
Known for its comfort food — including corned beef, Montreal-style smoked meat and pastrami — Yitz's became a staple to many customers who say they are sad to see it go.
But for Rick Penciner, it was more than a friendly place with good food.
Yitz's Deli an icon in Toronto is closing after 47 years. My dad was Yitz - sold it in 2001. I worked there from age 7. It was my 2nd home. The staff were my 2nd family. My father passed in 2013. Now his name in lights will come down. When I heard the news all I could do was cry. <a href="https://t.co/9fwyDW8Y6a">pic.twitter.com/9fwyDW8Y6a</a>—@RickPenciner
"That's where I got to spend time with my father, that's when I got to see him," he said, adding that Friday nights at closing time were always dedicated to a family dinner.
"He had a really big personality."
Penciner says both the staff and the building itself were big parts of his life growing up.
"That staff were our second family," he said. "It was home."
He's not the only one who felt that way, he realized, after reading countless comments online.
Glad to get to Yitz's for a goodbye pastrami & matzo ball soup before 47 years of Toronto history shutters tomorrow. <a href="https://t.co/oYoQ7NOzIr">pic.twitter.com/oYoQ7NOzIr</a>—@andrew_evans23
Customers stopped by to 'say goodbye'
One of those customers was Kelly Dyment, who says she needed a moment to bid farewell to the deli that was the source of many happy childhood memories for her.
She remembers stopping by the joint to buy all sorts of "delicious" dishes, which she would then sneak into The Eglinton Grand theatre before every movie.
But much like the old cinema, Yitz's will soon be just a memory for those who have come to know it as a landmark of the Eglinton Avenue area.
When you regrettably find out Yitz’s Delicatessen is closing - yes, you pick up corned beef sandwiches, kasha, matzo ball soup, latkes - and drive to Niagara to have one last feast with your grandparents, 40+ year customers. It was a good, good night. ❤️ <a href="https://t.co/S95fcRvO5K">pic.twitter.com/S95fcRvO5K</a>—@estherkatzman
"It just felt like the right thing to go in and say goodbye and have a moment in there," said Dyment, who stopped by on Tuesday.
"I guess I was expecting it to feel a little bit more sad when I walked in there but it wasn't."
Having moved to the area in 1986, she says Yitz's immediately became a regular spot. .
Now that was a good Montreal smoked meat sandwich! Lunch with <a href="https://twitter.com/simplegearle?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@simplegearle</a> at Yitz’s Deli before they close for good. <a href="https://t.co/wjbcJT5AEq">pic.twitter.com/wjbcJT5AEq</a>—@greggtilston
Said good bye to an old friend tonight <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Yitzs?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Yitzs</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/deli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#deli</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Torontodeli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Torontodeli</a> <a href="https://t.co/JFFPn51ZAT">pic.twitter.com/JFFPn51ZAT</a>—@Beth_Levy66
"I feel the loss," says Dan Lyon, another regular customer of the popular joint.
He says it's sad to see so many classic spots disappearing from the city.
"You really feel the loss when they're gone."
'We have customers buying soup by the case'
Silver — who bought the deli in 2001, says he's received an influx of sentiments since he announced his retirement three weeks ago.
"We've had customers in tears, we have customers buying soup by the case," he told CBC Toronto Sunday.
"It's been remarkable."
The final Yitz's. <a href="https://t.co/dWx7NNugHQ">pic.twitter.com/dWx7NNugHQ</a>—@dana_edits
Silver, 70, has lived in the area all his life.
After working seven days a week for two decades, he says he has forged relationships with many of his customers, who have been driving from all over to get one final taste of Yitz's classic dishes.
One drove from Burlington, Ont., solely for the pastrami sandwich.
"Our customers are outstanding. I would say that out of a thousand customers, I have one that gives me a problem," he said.
Although Silver says he will miss the friendly faces, retiring will give him the chance to spend more time with family.
"I'm doing what I want to do. I want to be able to spend time with my grandchildren," Silver said.
As for what he will do starting Monday morning, he says he will probably have to take a turn making the bed.
"After 40 plus years of marriage [my wife will say] 'make the bed dear, it's your turn.'"