Lox Stock and Bagel’s new chef Lina Fainblum, left, and recently retired chef of 33 years Rose Carr, who will still be involved with the deli’s operations. (photo by Sam Margolis)
In June, Lox, Stock and Bagel deli at the Jewish Community Centre of Victoria was in something of a … well … pickle. A replacement needed to be found for Rose Carr, who had been overseeing the kitchen for 33 years, nearly the entirety of the deli’s existence, and about whom there are not enough superlatives to express her significance to both the local community and the customers the eatery serves.
Confronted with having to search for another chef, the JCCV advertised the vacancy. Many people applied but there was not a good fit, that is, a person who could fully appreciate the haimish (homelike) atmosphere of the deli and commit to staying in the position long term. The deli was forced to close.
Fortunately, the despair loyal patrons had to endure was short-lived, as Lina Fainblum, a member of the community and someone who loves cooking, came along.
“Everyone was thrilled,” said Larry Gontovnick, president of the JCCV. Lox, Stock and Bagel reopened in October, with a Wednesday to Friday schedule. Within three weeks, the deli resumed its original Tuesday to Friday hours.
“From looking pretty bad, it is going to what we wanted,” said Carr, who remains a beloved fixture at Lox, Stock and Bagel. “Lina is a mini miracle. Our prayers were answered.”
Although she has cut down her work in the kitchen, Carr is still on the board of the JCCV and runs the deli. The social aspect of the deli is very important, Gontovnick noted and, in this regard, Carr, who is also known as “Grandma Rose,” is in a class of her own.
“I’m in my third generation at the deli,” she said. “When I started here, people were bringing their little ones. Grandma Rose goes crazy when infants come in. And these kids grow up and come back and then bring in their little ones.
“We also have a lot of seniors who come in and they are treated with respect because we are all seniors,” she added.
When Carr arrived from Los Angeles in 1990, the JCCV at 3636 Shelbourne St. in Victoria’s Cedar Hill neighbourhood was in its fledgling stages, having just opened in June 1988. She introduced herself and has continued in her efforts to bring New York and Los Angeles deli food to Vancouver Islanders ever since.
At that time, the deli was located in a space at the centre that could only accommodate 15 people. Since then, it has expanded to seating 60 and, as Carr says, “many a day, we are full.”
Word of the wonderful dishes – such as knishes and kugel – spread shortly after the deli originally opened more than three decades ago. On one occasion, a group of firefighters came to test the exits of the JCCV. They wound up staying for lunch and told their friends and family, who were also eager to have a delicious and nearby nosh.
“It was recognized fairly early on that the customer base was non-Jews who lived in the area, enjoyed Jewish food and saw this as an affordable offering,” said Gontovnick. “It continues to this day. Most of our clients are non-Jewish. They love the place, the volunteers, the affordability and the quality of the food. It’s second to none. We have had a steady clientele. People come three or four times a week to eat.”
“People love us. They feel at home, they start clearing tables and they have been very generous with donations. They have been incredible accepting us as being Jewish.” added Carr. “After the Hamas attack, people whom we didn’t know would come into the JCC. They didn’t know anyone Jewish but would come to say they were praying for us. We are very well known and well liked in the community.”
As did many other establishments, Lox, Stock and Bagel faced challenges when COVID-19 struck in March 2020. The JCCV, at the time, decided to switch to takeout via the side door of the building. When the weather was balmy, they would set up tables outside.
One lasting result of the pandemic at the deli was the removal of a partition at the JCCV to open up more space and allow people to dine at tables further apart from one another.
Lox, Stock and Bagel, which received its name following a contest in the mid-1990s, serves all the standards one might expect at delis in much larger metropolitan areas: blintzes, matzah ball soup, pastrami on rye, jumbo hot dogs, pickled herring and gefilte fish. For dessert, there is the “Better Than Sex Chocolate Cake,” a favourite at the deli and at local fairs and, according to numerous sources, an item that lives up to its billing.
Lox, Stock and Bagel is open Tuesday to Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. From Dec. 5 to 15, it will be the site of Latke Mania. Hundreds of latkes will be prepared on several fryers for all those in the community to have a chance to mark Hanukkah with the traditional savoury treat.
“Our motto is: everyone’s welcome,” said Gontovnick. “This is nice place to come and just have a Jewish experience.”
Sam Margolis has written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.