TENAFLY, N.J.– Little did Steve Longo, a third-generation American of Italian descent, know that he'd end up owning and operating one of the few remaining kosher delis in North Jersey.
You don't see many places like his Tenafly Kosher Deli, said Longo, of Bergenfield, "because there aren't many third and fourth generations running them. You have to be born and bred into a place like this."
Longo was introduced to the world of kosher establishments through a diversified work program at Clarkstown High School in Rockland County.
He went on to work for kosher restaurants and delis in Long Island, Westchester, the Bronx and Rockland before semi-retiring as a member of the Tenafly Kosher Deli staff in 1993. Nine years ago, he bought the place.
"There were 30 or 40 [kosher delis in Bergen County] at one point," Longo said. "We're probably one of four places left in Bergen County.
"It's not due to a lack of demand," he said, "but because no one wants to work 12-14 hour days anymore. For me, it's second nature."
Longo and his staff abide by kosher dietary laws:
"To simplify: Kosher means clean, from the handling and slaughtering of the animal right up until you get the food," the father of two said. "You go through the supervision of rabbis and mashgiachs (supervisors)."
Longo considers himself an "unofficial" mashgiach because "I've been doing this so long."
"You don't have to keep kosher to come to a place like this," he said.
If you do visit, he guaranteed, you'll be back.
"Ninety percent of the people we know by name," Longo said. "If I get you in the door once, I've got you for the whole time you live around here."
What makes it so good?
"Corned beef and pastrami tells the tale of a kosher deli," Longo said. "If you don't have good corned beef or pastrami, then nothing else is good."