At 9 a.m.: Day 4 of Public Impeachment Hearings

Listen on WHYY-FM, watch on WHYY-TV or stream online.

At Hershel’s East Side Deli, record-breaking breakfasts and longtime traditions

Hershel's East Side Deli chef and co-owner Andy Wash (left) and his crew tend to customers. With a seemingly endless line, it is all hands on deck with each worker prepping different orders.

Hershel's East Side Deli chef and co-owner Andy Wash (left) and his crew tend to customers. With a seemingly endless line, it is all hands on deck with each worker prepping different orders. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

Reading Terminal Market is a ghost town at 5 a.m., but Jhovani “G” Posada has already been prepping for a half an hour for a big day at Hershel’s East Side Deli.

At 5 a.m., Jhovani “G” Posada, 37, brings freshly cooked meats from the oven to the deli.
At 5 a.m., Jhovani “G” Posada, 37, brings freshly cooked meats from the oven to the deli. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

Posada usually arrives around 6 a.m., but on March 3—the first day of the Philadelphia Flower Show—there is much more to be done. On a typical day, the Kosher-style deli will go through 300 to 500 pounds of meat, but on this special Saturday, co-owner and head chef of Hershel’s, Andy Wash, has prepared more than 1,200 pounds of meat.

This includes 500 pounds of pastrami, 500 pounds of corned beef, 140 pounds of brisket, and 110 pounds of turkey. The first batch goes into the oven at 3 p.m. Friday and includes 100 pounds of corned beef and 10 pieces of pastrami, each weighing 4 to 9 pounds.

Andy Wash, co-owner and head chef of Hershel’s East Side Deli, loads hundreds of pounds of meat (turkey, brisket, and pastrami) into the back ovens at Reading Terminal Market.
Andy Wash, co-owner and head chef of Hershel’s East Side Deli, loads hundreds of pounds of meat (turkey, brisket, and pastrami) into the back ovens at Reading Terminal Market. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

“That’s just for breakfast,” Wash says as he loads the store’s ovens in the back of the market. “I’m looking to do a record breaking day, and next Saturday I want to beat that record.”

Around 6 a.m., the rest of the Hershel’s crew shows up, and that’s when the rest of the store gets prepped for the influx of orders, which starts at precisely 8 a.m. But before the rush begins, the six-man crew sits down for breakfast.

Just before the market opens at 8 a.m., the workers at Hershel’s sit down for a family breakfast, the last time they will relax until the deli closes at 7 p.m..
Just before the market opens at 8 a.m., the workers at Hershel’s sit down for a family breakfast, the last time they will relax until the deli closes at 7 p.m.. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

“Saturday is our busiest day, we like to sit down and have a family breakfast. This is our last break until 7:30 p.m.,” Wash explains as he finishes up his scrambled eggs. He’s not exaggerating.

The morning is steady as customers come through and order breakfast sandwiches. The crew finishes wrapping up pickles or slicing cheese. By 11 a.m., a steady line starts to form.

A patron looks up at the menu as he decides what he wants to order.
A patron looks up at the menu as he decides what he wants to order. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

“This place is amazing; there’s so many options,” one overhears as patrons wait for their turn to order. By noon the line wraps around the deli and curves around their counter space, which also has a line for people wishing to sit down and eat at the old-fashioned counter top.

Vincent and Dianna Deeney, of Phoenixville, find space to sit at the counter. It’s their first time at Hershel’s. The couple came into the market for some breakfast before heading into the Philadelphia Flower Show. When he saw brisket on the menu, Vincent turned to his wife and said “yup, we’re eating here.” He sees himself as a sort of brisket connoisseur and never gives up an opportunity to try someone else’s recipe. He was not disappointed, “it’s excellent, top notch. And it’s hitting right where I need it.”

By noon the line for sandwiches wraps around the deli, leaving waiting patrons to ogle the food being eaten by those who have found counter space.
By noon the line for sandwiches wraps around the deli, leaving waiting patrons to ogle the food being eaten by those who have found counter space. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

Wash and co-owner Steve Safern went through hundreds of pounds of meat before landing on the right meat rub. They were able to take cues and lessons from the famous Katz Deli in Manhattan where the deli’s namesake, Safern’s uncle Hershel, worked as a chef for more than 40 years. Steve decided he wanted to honor his uncle and his heritage and open his own Jewish-style deli in his hometown of Philadelphia.

A grilled Pastrami special is taken from the grill.
A grilled Pastrami special is taken from the grill. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

But not just any location would work. He wanted space in the famous Reading Terminal Market. In the mid 1990’s he proposed the idea to his former Temple University college roommate, Wash, and they got started.

Wash grew up in the restaurant business, beginning at age 12 working at Nathan’s Hot Dogs on Coney Island and eventually owning restaurants of his own. Together they worked on the recipes they would bring to their deli, using recipes that had been passed down from each of their families and lots of trial and error.

Around 5:30 a.m., co-owner Andy Wash joins the preparations, beginning his day with his four-cheese kugel, which is a sweet, cheese, noodle dish which has its roots in old Jewish cooking.
Around 5:30 a.m., co-owner Andy Wash joins the preparations, beginning his day with his four-cheese kugel, which is a sweet, cheese, noodle dish which has its roots in old Jewish cooking. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

Finally in 2005, a space opened up inside the market and the pair set up shop. Their deli quickly became a go-to spot for meat lovers from all over.

“Being able to share the foods you grew up with and see and hear the responses of reactions, it’s never boring. We’re thankful and lucky,” Safern says as he looks around his space. “If I reach one person’s soul in a day, whether it be food or mind, that’s a successful day. We do mitzvahs every day.”

A young Hershel's patron watches the food preparation.
A young Hershel’s patron watches the food preparation. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

After 3 p.m., the line begins to dissipate and the rush dies down, giving the deli workers a breather before the dinner rush.

“I’m always ready for these days,” Posada explains as he preps a sandwich. By the end of the day, the deli has gone through nearly 1,500 pounds of meat, meaning meat was prepped on the fly as the demand exceeded Wash’s doubled preparations.

The shop closes at 7 p.m., an hour later than a typical Saturday. The crew goes out for some well-deserved drinks and then home to bed to prepare for another 6 a.m. call time.

Scroll through the gallery below for more mouthwatering photos.

 

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.