Chef Noah Bernamoff’s childhood home in Montreal was a traditional one: his observant Jewish parents kept a “99 percent” kosher kitchen; they sent their son to parochial schools from kindergarten through high school; they tried to impress upon him the duties and responsibilities of a religious man. That wholehearted embrace of tradition is what, at least partially, influenced Bernamoff to move to New York and pursue law as his vocation. But in 2009, during his second year at Brooklyn Law, Bernamoff found that he was spending more time thinking about the rich tradition of Jewish deli that he had left behind in his hometown than he was hitting the books.
And so, with a little help from his wife, Rae Cohen, and friend, Max Levine, the idea of Mile End Delicatessen was born. Taking its name from the historically Jewish neighborhood of Montreal where “smoked meat” — aka pastrami — is piled high on rye and two world-renowned bagel shops battle it out for customer loyalty, Bernamoff’s tiny restaurant opened in downtown Brooklyn the following year, serving the classics — matzah ball soup, chicken liver and, of course, Bernamoff’s beloved smoked meat — that he cherished from his childhood.
Bernamoff may have strayed from a more conventional path, but Mile End, too, is emphatically about tradition, just as his home was when he was small.
“This is food that’s real, genuine, and tradition-based, and that’s something that people can appreciate,” Bernamoff said of his meteoric success, which has been well chronicled in the press. The original, 435-square-foot restaurant in Brooklyn now has a second location across the river in Noho, and Bernamoff’s team just launched a companion business, Black Seed Bagels.
With such growth in just four years here in New York, Bernamoff said he is looking to other cities where Mile End might fit in.
“I’m a restless human being,” he said. “The idea of operating a Mile End in a city that’s not home is scary, but it’s also something I’m definitely excited by.”
Bathroom humor: “Our Brooklyn place is so tiny,” Bernamoff said, “that people regularly walk in and ask to sit in the ‘back room.’ I ask, ‘Did you say the bathroom? Because we don’t have a back room, but you’re welcome to sit in the bathroom if you like.’”