The title of this blogpost includes the words Albany Park because, apparently, there were, in the 1940s, two Purity Restaurants in Chicago. There was the one on Lawrence Avenue, pictured above and, you may not have known, there was a second restaurant with the same name at Van Buren and Halsted streets.
I don’t know of any connection between the two, but the families behind both remained in the restaurant business into the 21st century and, in the case of the family that opened the Purity deli on Van Buren, to this day.
Let’s first look at the non-Albany Park Purity Deli. According to an article on Wikipedia, Jack and Charlie Raskin opened a Purity deli at Van Buren and Halsted streets in 1942. Later Jack went on to open his own place a few blocks away on Roosevelt Road. He called it Manny’s and I don’t have to tell you the rest. Manny’s has moved several times but currently is located at 1141 S. Jefferson and is run by Jack Raskin’s grandson and great-grandsons.
Not so many people know, however, that the Purity Delicatessen of Albany Park was co-founded in 1936 by the father of well-known Chicago restauranteur, Mel Markon. In the years following WWII, Mel told me Purity was so popular they were selling 4,000 pounds of corned beef a week.
It was, Mel says, too much of a good thing. One night at closing time, his father, Raymond, was cleaning up and complained to a customer that the place was killing him. The customer made an offer of $20,000, and the deal was sealed that night. Mel attended Von Steuben High School for one year before his family moved from the area.
In 1948, Mel’s father reunited with his former Purity partner, Harry Eppel, to open the Shoreline Deli on 71st Street. In the early 1960s, he opened the Seaway on 87th Street near Stoney Island with his brothers-in-law Herb Smith and Irv Safron. In the mid-1960s, Mel’s father teamed up with his son, Mel, to open Markon’s Restaurant at 91st and Jeffery.
In the 1970s through 2011, Mel opened some iconic Chicago restaurants of his own, including Mel Markon’s on Lincoln Park West, Zanadu, Dixie Que, and Bia for Mia. People still talk about the legendary Markon sweet and sour cabbage soup and the recipe has been reprinted on many websites.
From a post on the Hello Cutie blog, I learned that Lou Bernstein owned the Purity Delicatessen sometime during the 40s, though I don’t know if he was the customer who bought the place late that night from Raymond Markon. In a comment on that blogpost, Jerry Pritikin recalls that Lou Bernstein’s son, Wayne, went to Hibbard School and was related to comedian Morrie Amsterdam.
Share in the comments what you remember about the Purity — North Side or South Side.
Related: The Albany Park Purity is also remembered in an earlier blogpost, an interview with storyteller and Roosevelt alum Syd Lieberman.
Sources: Phone interview with Mel Markon. South Shore News Spot, by Caryn Lazar Amster. November 2006: http://www.trans-micro.com/bradwell/SouthShoreNewsSpot/NewsSpots/2006/November%202006.html
This post is for an individual who wrote on his bucket list: “I would love a corned beef or tongue sandwich from the Purity in Chicago.” — The best we can do is remember it for you.