When you’re enrolled in law school but you end up spending more time on the roof smoking meat than hitting the books, you might start suspecting that your 18” Weber bullet smoker was a better investment than tuition.
That’s what happened to Montreal native Noah Bernamoff back in 2007 when he was living with his girlfriend Rae and enrolled at Brooklyn Law School. Influenced by his grandmother, Nana Lee, whose preferred habitat was the kitchen where she “cooked these epic Friday night dinners,” Bernamoff found himself avoiding case law and instead recreating his family’s story of food as community.
Bernamoff’s focused procrastination was also inspired by the famed smoked meat of his hometown, most notably the products of Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen, whose silky, spiced and fatty house-smoked brisket has triggered nostalgic longings in many an ex-pat. Approaching his final year of law school, Bernamoff made the calculation that he could spend his “last vestiges of financial freedom” on school and emerge with no choice but to become a lawyer, or spring for the vacant 435-square-foot space for lease on Hoyt Street that beckoned. Figuring the latter would be the richer learning experience, he and Rae, his McGill college sweetheart, took the leap.
The two married in 2009 and, along with the help of Bernamoff’s high school friend Max Levine, opened Mile End Delicatessen in January 2010, naming it after the Montreal neighborhood his grandparents called home. Using Montreal as inspiration distinguished theirs from every other New York deli, as did their commitment to making everything by hand and using the best ingredients possible. Their smoked meat sandwiches and other handmade Jewish comfort foods were a hit from day one.
Their mini-empire — which included the Brooklyn restaurant, Mile End Sandwich in NoHo and a Red Hook facility where they do all their smoking, pickling and baking — took a big hit when Hurricane Sandy completely wiped out the Red Hook facility. “The commissary kitchen was the heart of our operation,” says Rae, as well as the foundation of Mile End’s handmade ethic.
While the Bernamoffs and their team work to assess the damage, they are serving a stripped down menu and closing the Hoyt Street deli early so they can prep food for the next day in its tiny kitchen. With luck adds Rae, dinner service will start up on Friday. “All we can ask now is that our customers bear with us and continue to patronize us through this period,” she says. “We can use everyone’s support.”