Goodbye Ben's Best of Rego Park
Melville, Long Island, Clifton, New Jersey. Some town in Pennsylvania, and some other place in Connecticut.
I remember even partially the names of these locations, because it came as an impromptu announcement from each customer that walked into Ben’s Best Kosher Deli on its last day, in its last hour, this past Saturday night.
Jay Parker, son of Benjamin Parker, the original owner and founder of Ben’s Best, was quoted as saying, “I don’t depend on the local people.” Although it is typical for destination restaurants, just like Ben’s to rely on out of the borough or out of town customers, I always felt there was a sense of injustice that not enough Queens residents just walked into the place located conveniently on Queens Boulevard.
You couldn’t get past the door before you were bombarded with old relics and news clippings that linked Ben’s Best to New York City, pieces of history that permanently cemented the restaurant in the fabric of Queens. Back in the day, Ben’s even sponsored a little league team in Rego Park for years.
David Sax, author of “Save the Deli” said, “Ben’s Best is one of the last remaining old school kosher delis left in New York, the last one in Queens, and also just one of the best and tastiest delis anywhere.”
And even considering all that, Queens still couldn’t care any less.
A couple of years ago, I was introduced to Jay Parker through a third party, a meeting with the intent of helping the restaurant get some social media exposure. Jay was grasping at straws even then, desperately looking for alternative ways to get some buzz for his deli. I thought it was ironic, yet tragic that Ben’s Best should’ve been closer to landmark status in Queens, instead of being treated like the infamous chopped liver they carried in their displays.
I wish the social media influence of Queenscapes would’ve made the difference back then, wish we could’ve knocked some sense into the Queens community and keep the old place open.
I’ll always remember our conversation on cameras that ran way too long two years ago, and him remembering me because I was the guy who adjusted a broken automatic lens, manually.
Pictured above is Jay Parker personally greeting his last customer at Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen located at 96-40 Queens Boulevard, Rego Park, N.Y. established in 1945.
Photo and words by Adolfo Steve Vazquez