Toronto

'I feel the loss': After 47 years in business, customers bid farewell to Yitz's deli

After 47 years in business, Yitz's deli in midtown Toronto has closed its doors for good.

Owner of midtown joint retiring to spend more time with his grandchildren

Yitz Penciner, the original owner of Yitz's, opened the deli in 1972. He sold the restaurant in 2001 and passed away in 2013. (Rick Penciner/Submitted )

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 was located at 346 Eglinton Ave. W., near Avenue Road. (Yitz's Delicatessen Restaurant & Catering/Facebook)

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. 

 

"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. 

 

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. 

"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. . 

"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." 

 

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. 

For the past few weeks, customers near and far from the deli have been making the trip to get one last taste of Yitz's comfort food. (Gregg Tilston/Submitted )

"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.'"  

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