Food & Drink

Remember Pumpernik’s? The last of the originals closed years ago. But there was a revival

1-26-88--Herald File--Pumperniks Deli.
1-26-88--Herald File--Pumperniks Deli.

A reopened Jewish deli in Hialeah has brought back home-made corned beef on rye back to Miami-Dade. And lots of memories of a once-common site in South Florida.

Stephen’s Deli is being treated like an endangered species. That’s because it is. Dozens of delis once dotted the local landscape. Wolfie’s, Corky’s, Rascal House.

And who can forget Pumpernik’s?

It’s where broadcaster Larry King got his start, in a booth, interviewing passing celebrities in Miami Beach. The chain spread through Miami-Dade and Broward.

Stephen’s Delicatessen is ready to make a comeback June 19 with owner number eight — Matt Kuscher, the innovative chef-owner of Lokal, Kush, The Spillover and Vicky’s House milkshake bar.

The last of the original Pumpernik’s locations shut down July 7, 1993. There were a few start-up efforts, including a takeout bakery and a couple locations in Broward that opened in 1998 and closed in 1999.

Pumpernik’s, which arrived in the 1950s, had that old deli look, feel and smell. Buckets of pickles on the table. Waitresses that called you “Sweetheart.” Early bird brisket, pastrami on rye and a bakery that pumped out cheesecake after cheesecake.

Here is a look at the last days of the Pumpernik’s chain, along with the short-lived revivals, through the Miami Herald archives.

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The staff at a Pumpernik’s deli in the 1950s. Miami Herald File

THE LAST OF THE ORIGINALS

Published July 10, 1993

The early bird has flown the coop. The Hallandale Pumpernik’s — the last in a landmark South Florida chain that lavished its customers with Jewish food and bargain, late-afternoon dinners — closed Wednesday without warning.

The signs in the entrance say “Closed for Renovation,” but customers and employees say the restaurant has served its last plates of pickled tomatoes.

“I tell you, when I kissed the night manager goodbye Wednesday, she had tears in her eyes, and I did too,” said Leo Coslow, who ate regularly at Pumpernik’s for 22 years. “It was a real institution for Hallandale. It was a legend.”

The legend began in 1954 when restaurateur Wolfie Cohen opened the first Pumpernik’s at 6700 Collins Ave. in Miami Beach. In the era of the Carillon Hotel and Nathan’s, Pumpernik’s was a hot spot for a kosher-style bite, the site of Larry King’s early radio shows, and the subject of Jackie Mason’s humor.

larry car hands no truck
Larry King shares stories of his life in Miami while his driver whisks him along Collins Avenue to the 79th Street Causeway where King worked at WIOD for nearly two decades in the 1960s and 1970s. The Pumperniks, across from the Deauville, was the site of his first radio broadcast in 1957. Today, it’s a Walgreens. HOWARD COHEN hcohen@miamiherald.com

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As South Florida grew, the Pumpernik’s chain stretched from South Dade to Pembroke Pines, but the owners after Cohen couldn’t keep the franchises open.

The Hallandale Beach Boulevard shop became the final bastion of corned beef when the Suniland location went belly-up in 1990. The last Pumpernik’s customers —— who ordered from behind enormous menus stocked with kosher-style delicacies — flocked from the high-rise condos that rose in Hallandale after the store opened in 1972.

Rumors about impending disaster flew through the city this winter when Art Brown, the last heir to Cohen’s kingdom, began negotiating with Walgreens to build a drug store on the restaurant’s site. As late as March, Brown promised, “We are going to be here for a long time.”

The owners don’t know what they are going to do now, Brown’s partner, Manny Zinn, said Friday. He didn’t want to discuss plans, and former employees said their bosses didn’t disclose the closing until Wednesday.

Several waitresses had found other jobs earlier this year, and they stayed at Pumpernik’s because the owners said their jobs were secure.

“They denied the rumors right up until we were told at 3 p.m. that it was the last night,” said Jodi Reynolds, a waitress for five years. Friday afternoon, the parking lot normally filled by diners enjoying the early-bird dinners was vacant except for a string of full-sized American cars gliding through to inspect the darkened doors.

Frank and Lil Racher heard rumors about the closing, so they drove from their Hallandale home to see for themselves.

“From the chicken to the brisket, everything was delicious,” said Lil Racher, who ate at Pumpernik’s Tuesday night without knowing it might be her last chance. “They were friendly people. We want them to reopen.”

That decision will be up to Brown and Zinn. Walgreens spokesman Michael Polzin said the Illinois company is interested in the land but doesn’t have a contract to build yet.

HISTORY OF PUMPERNIK’S

1954: Wolfie Cohen founds Pumpernik’s in Miami Beach.

1972: Hallandale Pumpernik’s opens.

1990: Last Dade Pumpernik’s closes in Suniland.

1993: Last Pumpernik’s closes its doors without warning.

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The original Pumpernik’s in Miami Beach

END OF THE RUN IN MIAMI-DADE

Published Dec. 12, 1990

The Suniland Pumpernik’s restaurant, citadel of knishes and corned beef for the past 12 years, closed last week after the ownership’s attempt at federal protection from its 201 creditors was dismissed. The closing marked the end of the Pumpernik’s chain’s 38 year presence in Dade County.

The Suniland Pumpernik’s, at 11415 S. Dixie Highway, was the last franchise in Dade County of the Hallandale-based Pumpernik’s Southland Inc. It was independently owned and operated by the Datam Corp.

“We evicted them,” said Art Brown, president of Pumpernik’s Southland and owner of the 13,000 square foot space the franchise ownership leased for $13,000 per month. “They didn’t pay us the rent. For nine years, we ran it beautifully and made a lot of money. We sold it two years ago and when this management took over, it was mismanagement that took over.”

“I don’t know what Mr. Brown told you, but I have no comment,” said Louis Phillips, Datam’s lawyer.

Kolman Kenigsberg, president of the Datam Corp., did not return three calls from the Miami Herald.

Kenigsberg also had a stake in the North Miami franchise of Pumpernik’s that closed in 1988. It was later purchased by restaurateur Danny Goldstein and reopened as Danny’s. Two signs outside the Suniland Pumpernik’s indicate a Sizzler restaurant will move in, but the lease has yet to be signed, Brown said.

The first Pumpernik’s opened in 1952, at Collins Avenue and 67th Street in Miami Beach. The restaurant, owned by late restaurateur Wolfie Cohen, was named after a cartoon character called Uncle Pumpernickel. Cohen later sold the rights to the name to other restaurants.

The 260-seat Pumpernik’s in Suniland has been in financial trouble since the parent company sold it as a franchise to Sheldon Brenowitz in 1986. Brenowitz filed for bankruptcy in mid-1988, but the case was dismissed. Datam Corp. bought the franchise later that year and reopened the restaurant in December 1988. Datam, too, ran into debt. According to court records, the company’s debt as of August had ballooned to $500,000 while its assets only totaled $106,000. Brown estimated there were 75 employees working for the restaurant before the management was evicted Dec. 5. Datam filed for bankruptcy in July.

After the company failed to pay its rent in October, bankruptcy Judge Sidney Weaver dismissed the case. That left the door open for creditors to move in — and for the parent company to evict the management. The lone Pumpernik’s still operating is in Hallandale. It’s owned and operated by the parent company.

Stephen’s Delicatessen is ready to make a comeback June 19 with owner number eight — Matt Kuscher, the innovative chef-owner of Lokal, Kush, The Spillover and Vicky’s House milkshake bar.

BRIEFLY REBORN

Published Jan. 1, 1995

Mr. Pumpernik again waves a friendly neon hand to Hallandale’s busy boulevard. After closing abruptly 18 months ago, the fabled Pumpernik’s restaurant — long a watering hole for connoisseurs of lox, herring and goose liver pate -- was reborn last month as a takeout deli and bakery.

Late owner Charlie Linksman’s son, Mark, owns and operates the new 2,000-square-foot shop at 1107 E. Hallandale Beach Blvd. Behind storefront glass, the restaurant’s smiling mascot -- a portly grandfather figure in blue overalls and a tiny chef’s hat -- beckons regulars to return. “Every morning, they call,” says Linksman’s wife, Debra, between customers. “ ‘Oh, you’re back! We’re so happy! Do you have the chickens?’ All the time, the chickens!”

Employees and customers alike were stunned when owners sold the venerated Hallandale eatery in July 1993. Until closing time, no one knew of the decision to sell. It was the last of a chain that once stretched from South Miami to Fort Lauderdale. It closed after months of rumors that the property would be sold to the Walgreens drugstore chain. A Walgreens now stands in its place at 917 E. Hallandale Beach Blvd. Lois Altman of Aventura braved flood waters last week to peek into the new shop.

“People hear ‘Pumpernik’s’ and they’re going to come,” said Altman, 60. “When Pumpernik’s closed, people couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t understand it. They were always so crowded.”

Linksman, 52, hopes to re-create that demand. He’s banking on the Pumpernik’s name and a life spent in his father’s kitchens. Much of the old menu is available, Linksman said. In addition to a full-scale bakery, the new Pumpernik’s will serve prepared dinner and take-out lunches, plus catering and — soon, he says — delivery.

“I went all over the Hollywood area and looked, but we thought we should came back to Hallandale, where all our customers are,” Linksman said. If the sign looks familiar to former Pumpernik’s regulars, the staff will seem like deja vu. Employees from the closed restaurant, some of them career Linksman family workers, have been rehired to operate the new shop.

Except for the year and a half Pumpernik’s was closed, deli manager Fred Sommer, 54, has not worked anywhere else in 25 years.

“I’m very happy. It’s like home,” said Sommer, of North Miami Beach. Charlie Linksman started cleaning tables at Nathan’s in Coney Island in 1920. In 1956, he bought the Pumpernik’s at 6700 Collins Ave. in Miami Beach from famed restaurateur Wolfie Cohen. Linksman later opened Pumpernik’s restaurants in South Miami, North Miami, Hallandale, Fort Lauderdale and Encino, Calif. He died in 1990.

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This Pumpernik’s restaurant in Hollywood at 3353 Sheridan St. closed in 1999. Wanda J. DeMarzo Miami Herald File

SHORT-LIVED REVIVAL

Sept. 16, 1999

Shoppers and business owners in Hollywood’s Park Sheridan Plaza are baffled by the closing of two deli-style restaurants in the same space over the last few years. First Wolfie’s, then Pumperniks closed its doors at 3353 Sheridan St. Red neon signs cast the only light in the darkened interior of the storefront space.

The restaurant closed suddenly in mid-June, though a sign in the window said it would reopen July 16. It never did.

“Employees of the restaurant told me that the owner told them to meet him in the morning, and he never showed up,” said Jose Vinas, manager of Kosher Treats, a few doors away in the plaza. “They were out of a job just like that.” T

he restaurant was owned by Bonnie Delson, of Boca Raton. Her husband, Mitch Delson, was the manager. Neither could be reached for comment.

“I ate there quite a bit and the food was pretty good,” said Bill Sherwood, a Hollywood resident who works in the Park Sheridan Plaza. Sherwood said he did not understand what happened because the restaurant always had customers. The closing came as a surprise, Sherwood said. Wolfie’s Restaurant opened in that space in late October 1996.

Bonnie Delson bought the restaurant in December 1997, and the next year changed the name to Pumperniks. In January 1999, Mitch Delson filed for bankruptcy. Delson’s attorney, Patrick Scott of Fort Lauderdale, said the filing was unrelated to the restaurant.

“As far as I know, Bonnie had no financial problems,” Scott said. “I have no idea what happened with the restaurant.” Joyce Bauman, co-owner of the Deli Den restaurant, chalks the failure up to the fact that restaurants are a tough business.

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