By Katerina Valdivieso
A woman slim, tall, blond, elegant and pretty walks to the deli counter of Cherry Hill Gourmet Market. She’s wearing black high heel boots, a leather black miniskirt and a white and beige long fur coat. At Cherry Hill Gourmet Market, the most crowded area is the takeout gourmet food counter that is close to the kitchen –a kitchen that once used to cook lobsters, clams and oysters for thousands of diners when this market was a restaurant.
The woman orders, in Russian, some food to take out a few pounds of cooked duck with fruits and some kebabs with fresh tomato sauce. The lady at the counter answers, also in Russian.
After two decades of many attempts to revive the legendary restaurant called Lundy’s –most of these ending in failures- David Isaev opened Cherry Hill Gourmet Market in May and the old Lundy’s closed its doors for good.
The legendary Lundy’s was at this corner, Emmons Avenue and Ocean Avenue, for almost five decades. After the Lundy family sold it, Lundy’s was never quite the same. The original restaurant closed its doors for the first time in the late seventies. A decade later, three different managements tried to revamp. But the place got smaller, the food got more expensive and regular customers no longer came.
Since the Lundy’s era, Sheepshead Bay has turned into an enclave of Russian immigrants first followed by other nationalities –Turkish, Asian, Pakistani, Greek- who have found a home in this bay. You see them shopping at Cherry Hill Gourmet Market.
“That is the direction the neighborhood is going. This part of Brooklyn is no longer the blue-collar Catholic middle class person living here,” says Ned Berkes, editor of Sheepshead Bites, a local news blog. “If you see the Lundy’s Mall you’ll see there is a Japanese restaurant, a Turkish café and now Cherry Hill Gourmet Market.”
David Isaev, Cherry Hill’s owner, is from Azerbaijan. He walks around his store talking to customers, talking to his employees, switching from Russian to Hebrew to English to Spanish within a blink of an eye. A Hispanic man comes to him carrying a box of green grapes. Isaev picks them up, looks at him and quickly decides. He doesn’t want them. “No las quiero, no tienes nada mejor?” said Isaev.
Irving Lundy started his restaurant in 1926. The first Lundy’s was across the street from what is now the Lundy’s building, on the pier where the family fish store used to be. Later, in 1934, Irving Lundy moved the restaurant to the corner of Emmons Avenue and Ocean Avenue –right across the street from the pier – and it was a block-long restaurant. Its fame did not stop growing and it was once billed as America’s largest restaurant, seating up to 2,400, according an article in The New York Times. By the early fifties it was well known all around the country. Edna Mugno, 84, lives in Sheepshead Bay. Mugno, who was born and raised in this bay, remembers Lundy’s well enough. She says celebrating holidays were like nothing she has seen anywhere else. “Thanksgiving was out of this world at Lundy’s,” she said. “The racket, the voices, the noise and the festive ambience were incredible.” Mugno remembers that the floors were of marble, “so if you dropped a fork or a knife, yahoo! It would echo in the whole restaurant.”
Lundy’s used to cater to another kind of Brooklyn: Immigrants from Italy and Ireland or Jews well established in South Brooklyn. It was a family restaurant. The place was big enough to fit large groups and the prices were very affordable. Mugno says that when she was a teenager, every Friday, her mother sent her to Lundy’s clam bar. “I would get a quart of clam chowder for a dollar!” Mugno says, “Can you imagine? A quart for three people for a dollar?”
People in Brooklyn celebrated birthdays, engagement parties, bar mitzvah and even weddings at Lundy’s. Helen Evans, who still lives in Sheepshead Bay, was born before World War I. About five decades ago, Evans decided one morning to go to court with her husband to be and get married. Right after the newly wed couple headed to Lundy’s to celebrate with friends and family.
Outside Cherry Hill Gourmet Market, the façade of the old landmark building remains the same but once you open its doors, Cherry Hill resembles all the changes Sheepshead Bay has gone through since Lundy’s Restaurant’s golden era.
“Things have changed,” says Isaev, “Nobody here in this neighborhood wants another restaurant for 2,000 people. The people that live here now are not the same that lived when Lundy’s was around.”
Inside Cherry Hill store, to the left, bouquets and multicolor arrangements of imported flowers for special occasions welcome shoppers. They are placed by the window that faces Manhattan Beach, where a long row of the most demanded Lundy’s tables used to be. To the right, towards the wall, beautiful jars of syrups from Georgia, marmalades from Macedonia, German coffee, Russian candy and goods from all parts of the world adorned the shelves waiting to be bought by Sheepshead Bay residents. The long row of tables with pristine white clothes that was in the halls 40 years ago has been replaced by colorful stands of jars of all sizes and warm colors: Jars of pickled mushrooms from Serbia, pickled peppers from Italy and more than 20 types of olive oils from Greece, Spain, Italy and Israel. Some walls are covered by olive green marble. Left from old Lundy’s is the stairway with its original terrazzo marble steps and the wrought-iron railings in the foreground. They take you up to the mezzanine level, where is now Cherry Hill’s Café, the gathering place for men and women that live or work around Emmons Ave.
Lundy’s Restaurant lives in the memories of Brooklynites of the fifties. Those who come to Cherry Hill, missed out on Lundy’s prosperous days, but they don’t need it. All they need to stay in touch with their motherland and their own nostalgia is found here in the shelves of Cherry Hill.