The Purity Delicatessen of Albany Park

Purity Deli sign is behind the telephone pole on the right. Photograph via http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/4495

The Purity Deli sign is visible behind the telephone pole on the right. Photograph via http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/4495

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.

Mel Markon Zanadu Restaurant

Historic images on sale at ebay: http://www.ebay.com/itm/1976-Press-Photo-Mel-Markons-New-Zanadu-Restaurant-/261031228045

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.

Purity_Deli

Lou and Sidney Bernstein, owners of Purity Delicatessen, from the blog, Hello There Cutie.

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.

 

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20 Responses to The Purity Delicatessen of Albany Park

  1. Arnie Solars April 14, 2013 at 4:17 pm #

    I fondly remember the restaurant.We used to go there after school order a coke,french fries and kishke.The elderly waitress named Grandma used to tell to eat better and would give us a corned beef sandwich.Purity was a wonderful place to go and meet friends.

  2. Bonnie McGrath April 14, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

    lots of interesting memories flooding back. where was zanadu again?? for the life of me, can’t remember….

  3. Frances Archer April 14, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

    Hi, Bonnie. Zanadu was on Broadway, south of Devon.

  4. Frances Archer April 14, 2013 at 4:38 pm #

    Thanks, Arnie, for your comment.

  5. Mark Magel April 14, 2013 at 10:56 pm #

    My mom and dad moved from the old west side to Carmen and Kimball in 1951. I was 5 and “The Purity” was our place to eat. I can’t even remember how many times we ate there. My mom was a stay at home mom as most were in those days and my dad worked downtown and took the Ravenswood El to work every weekday as the station was just a few doors down on Kimball and Lawrence. My mom would walk my older brother and I to meet my dad as he came off the train and off we would go to dinner. He would always have the afternoon papers the American and Daily News with him. I remember you walked i “The Purity”n and there was a deli area to the right and the restaurant to the left. That intersection was bustling back in those days and looking at the Terminal Theater in that picture brings back many memories also. Across the street was The Metro Theater where you walked in and the screen was in the front which we all thought was pretty strange. This post really brings back some wonderful memories of my mom and dad. Thanks Frances as always.

  6. Brenda Wolin Terry April 15, 2013 at 2:18 am #

    My dad had a furniture store on Lawrence near St. Louis on the north side, and I spent many happy lunches at Purity with him and with friends through the years, since we lived in both Albany Park and Peterson Park during my childhood. I am a Californian now, and I really miss the food of the Chicago delis. There are no bagels to compare with the ones made in Chicago, either!

    Thanks for this walk through nostalgia. I love it!

  7. Frances Archer April 15, 2013 at 9:21 am #

    Thanks, Mark. It was such a major intersection, with so much history.

  8. Frances Archer April 15, 2013 at 9:22 am #

    Hi, Brenda. Thanks for contributing to the blog again. I’m wondering when Purity closed — any ideas?

  9. john from AP April 15, 2013 at 8:22 pm #

    Glad that you are back M&MS!! Growing up at Spaulding & Ainslie/Argyle this really hit home!!

  10. Frances Archer April 15, 2013 at 8:37 pm #

    Ha! Ha! I never left, but I’ve been pretty busy lately. Looking for more stories to post soon.

  11. Mike Wolstein April 25, 2013 at 8:19 pm #

    While reading this thread, an old memory popped into my head. One night, I think it was
    some time in the 70s, I was watching the Tonight Show, and Joey Bishop was filling in for Johnny Carson. On those “fill-in” nights, the guest host would have the theater lights turned up and would wander through the audience, randomly “interviewing” some of the folks in the audience. Bishop had one couple stand up and asked their names and where they were from. The couple, whose last name escapes me, stated “We own the Purity Deli on Lawrence avenue in Chicago”. I stood up and cheered!

  12. Mike Wolstein April 25, 2013 at 8:23 pm #

    HI again.

    Comment for Brenda Wolin Terry: Visit the “Name That School” section of this blog and look closely at the first of two “Great Snow of 1967″ pictures I provided. You’ll see a familiar store on the right side of the picture.

  13. Frances Archer April 29, 2013 at 10:43 am #

    Mike, Do you know when the Purity Deli closed? Nice hearing from you again.

  14. Mike Wolstein April 29, 2013 at 10:08 pm #

    HI, Frances! Sorry to be a stranger.

    I don’t remember when the Purity closed, but I’d place a guess at about 1968. I seem to remember going there during my high school days, 1963-67.

    I’m trying to get an old high school buddy to help me come up with a “map” of all the business that lined Lawrence avenue in the 50s and 60s. He knows them backwards and forwards. We’ve both been pretty busy lately, but we’ll try to put something together.

  15. Murray Simon October 15, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

    In 1952, my 2nd year at Roosevelt HS, my family moved from Central Park & Leland, into a building across from Von Steuben and the people who lived across the hall (Sol & Florence Singer) owned the Purity. They hired me as a soda jerk and I worked there while attending Roosevelt. After a year or so, Sol’s brother Jake & his wife Elsie bought the Purity. Sol & Florence opened the Mardi Gras at Touhy & Lincoln. It was to be a high class deli\restaurant and it had a drive thru pickup for the deli. This was a very original idea at that time but they didn’t succeed. Sol & Florence moved to NY where they opened a successful restaurant. Jake, after leaving the Purity, opened one of those $1.09 Steak Houses on Randolph St. just west of State St after which they also moved to NY.

    Just west of the Purity was a tiny tailor shop run by a small, hunchback man. The next building was the CTA station. Always a bustling place with the newsstand and a pot-bellied stove for warmth. And on the corner was a very classy policeman named Al who was permanently assigned to that corner because it was a difficult one to control due to the high volume of traffic.

    They trained me at the Purity to be a deli counterman and working as one, I put myself thru college & bought my 1st car. Subsequently I worked at a small deli across the street run by a guy named Harvey Renner. I also worked at the S&L at Kedzie & Lawrence (owned by Abe Levy, Roy Smith & Morris Pankin), Devon Randl’s (The name came from the 1st initials of Rosenzweig & Levy originally on the west side) at Devon & California and the Peak at Howard & California.

  16. Paul Malevitz October 21, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

    Dear Frances,

    I read the blog on the Purity Delicatessen on Lawrence Avenue and am a little puzzled. For some reason, I don’t seem to remember the Purity, but I do remember my family eating at the Terminal Delicatessen/Restaurant on the south side of Lawrence near Christiana between 1958 and 1961 when we lived there. I don’t recall its exact address but It was a few doors east of the Ravenswood El terminal. According to the picture on this site it looks like it may possibly have been one and the same place. I say this because I don’t remember ever reading anyone’s memoirs about the “Terminal.” Am I correct? Thanks, Paul M.

  17. Frances Archer October 23, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    Terminal Delicatessen has been mentioned by various readers, but I don’t know if the both the Purity and the Terminal occupied the same storefront at different times. Maybe some readers can help us out with this question. Thanks, Paul.

  18. Ted Lasky November 9, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    Does anyone remember Mr. Roberts restaurant in the north side of Chicago. About late 1950 or early 1960.

  19. Marv November 11, 2013 at 12:54 pm #

    Ted,
    I remember a great deli from that era known as Roberts located at the southeast corner of Devon and Western Ave. On the other corners were Hobbymodels and General Camera Co.

  20. Ted Lasky November 11, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

    Thank you very much

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