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Knish Nosh rewrites its history in Rego Park

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“We’re sitting tight” he has repeatedly told longtime customers of the well-worn and...

By Jennifer Warren

Sam Heller, the owner of Rego Park’s near-landmark eatery Knish Nosh, on the corner of Queens Boulevard and 67th Road has always told his customers he isn’t budging.

“We’re sitting tight” he has repeatedly told longtime customers of the well-worn and cramped knish shop, which first opened in 1945. But in the coming months, Heller is budging “a bissel” — or as one would say in English — a little.

Heller, 82, who has served up knishes, kosher franks-in-a-blanket, black cherry sodas and rugalech since he first bought the business from the Tab brothers in 1951, said within a matter of weeks, he will uproot the establishment to relocate across the street.

The store as it stands now is a no-frills establishment. Upon entering one finds a gray linoleum counter, piles of prefolded cardboard boxes, and the warm comfort of ever-baking ovens. Stacks of large round knishes, 20 trays high, stand behind the counter awaiting delivery to points throughout Queens.

It is one of the few original eateries remaining from the ‘40s and ‘50s when the area was primarily Jewish. But things have changed since then, Heller said. Whereas before his clientele was “99 percent Jewish, now we’ve got Russian, Indian, Korean. You’ve got the League of Nations in here,” he said.

Heller, a stout man with a wave of gray hair across his scalp and a warm face partially hidden by lilac-tinted glasses, sat at one of the three tables in his shop as he sifted through the day’s mail.

“Time goes so fast,” he said. “People knew one another then. Now, everything is so cold.” He said many of the newer customers don’t chat with him because “they don’t like me. They think I’m a grouch.”

His actions and his customers, however, say otherwise.

Andre Heimann, 52, who works in a nearby bakery had only accolades for the man.

“He’s like the Godfather of Queens Boulevard. Whatever I need, Sam is there for me,” Heimann said as he scoffed down his daily diet of a wrapped frank.

Heller said he decided to move after all these years because “it’s a larger quarters.” Knish Nosh will move into the space directly opposite 67th Road, which was occupied by Lazar Meats. The butcher will remain, but in only half of its original space.

Heller insisted that although “everything will be new” the menu will largely stay the same, still offering his steaming fresh pillows of potato, kasha, spinach and meat and his $2.95 special — a large knish, frank-in-a-blanket, and soda or coffee.

Merna Barbara, 65, of Rego Park who has been coming to the shop for more than 35 years said that come holiday season, when natives return to their roots, the line of memory-seeking customers runs out the door.

“The children don’t come back to visit you,” she said, “they come for the knishes.”

But the shop doesn’t lack loyal customers during the year. While munching on a potato knish, Murray Gilbert, 68, of Yellowstone Blvd. recalled his first foray into the store 20 years ago.

“There were nice girls sitting here when I walked in — good looking girls,” he said.

But he no longer comes for the women, he said.

“You can sit here. Nobody bothers you. You can b.s. a little bit,” he said, laughing with Heller, before he continued on his way.

Reach reporter Jennifer Warren by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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