A Toronto deli that’s like ‘a second family’ survives 65 years later, while a Chinese restaurant that became an institution has a second life

A lot has changed in the 65 years since one of Toronto’s most iconic delis opened its doors.

Since 1957, Pancer’s Deli has been a staple in the Jewish community where you will find everything from their famous corned beef sandwiches to Jewish comfort food such as matzo ball soup, kishkas and latkes on the menu.

In 2010, Pancer’s was under new ownership after the restaurant was sold. Five years later, it closed suddenly, and the community lost a vital eatery, or so people thought. Then the Pancer family met with the landlord and decided to reopen in that same Bathurst Street strip plaza.

Since reopening in 2015, it has remained a hub for the Jewish clientele, who have kept supporting it. Some fondly remember when Pancer’s first opened at its original location at another plaza located a few blocks north on Bathurst Street (also in a strip plaza).

Michael Pancer, who runs the back of house, was born a mere four days after the deli first opened. He and his younger brother Lorne, who runs the front of the house, are the third generation of owners, following in the footsteps of their grandfather Moe and father Stan.

Pancer’s connection to the community continues for generations.

According to Michael Pancer, “The ethnicity of the area has changed somewhat, but our customers seem willing to travel from wherever their new homes are to come to eat. Also, many of the customers are the grandchildren of the original customers from the ’50s and ’60s.”

With 65 years in the business, what is the secret to their success? Pancer attributes it to their meats.

“We have our own recipes, and they are all made fresh. Also, our customers are expecting us to keep the menu stable; that seems to be what they like. When we tried changing the menu, there was a bit of a rebellion, so we have gone back to the way it was in the beginning.”

It is not just those actively involved in the business who have lots to say about it.

Steve Steinberg’s father Edgar was an engineer with a large company, who worked part-time there as a cook under Moe Pancer for seven years, starting in 1957. His father’s recipes for corned beef, coleslaw, and chicken fricassee are still being used today, Steve said.

“Every so often, I’ll go in there for lunch, and it almost feels like my dad is there with me, even though he has been gone 39 years.” Steve also recalls Stan Pancer attending his bar mitzvah. That’s just what this deli means to so many people. It’s more than a restaurant; it’s like a second home, a second family.”

Pancer’s is not the only old-time restaurant for the Jewish community. Sea-Hi Famous Chinese Food is making a comeback this spring after closing its original location in 2019. A group of industry experts and investors came together to bring back the Chinese comfort food via takeout and delivery.

Sea-Hi, like Pancer’s, has also been around for 65 years. In 2017 it was featured in a Larry Weinstein documentary titled Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas.

One of Sea-Hi’s customers who frequented the old location is pleased to hear of the return. His family even kept some of the restaurant’s famous plum sauce in their freezer since they closed.

Realtor Ethan Kopel is looking forward to the new location, 7000 Bathurst St., that happens to be opening around the corner from where he lives. He hopes that the new Sea-Hi will be just as good as he remembers.

“What I’m looking for is that nostalgic, greasy but amazing food, specifically the plum sauce (we still have some in our freezer) and the bacon-wrapped chicken sticks.”