Sarasota's prodigal deli king is back in town, and he's got a new home in the Rosemary District, where he is the executive chef of The Original Wolfie's.
Sol Shenker, who has won a devoted following in Sarasota for his New York deli-style food at several different eateries, has been living in Colorado, where his wife has been attending veterinary school.
The marquee above where Shenker and his treasured recipes for matzo ball soup, pastrami on rye and cheesecake will soon be found reads the "Original Wolfie's."
The space will also house a night-spot brethren, Wolfie Cohen's Rascal House. You'll find them at 1420 Boulevard of the Arts, sandwiched between two theatrical venues, the Sarasota Ballet School and The Sarasota Players.
Nearby, at 1436 Boulevard of the Arts, is what is being called Wolfie's "Box Office," which will offer takeout options from the storied Jewish delicatessen. The pedigree of the new deli reads like a list of credits from a Broadway show.
According to marketing materials, its menu features favorites from South Florida’s most historic delis — Wolfie’s, Pumpernik’s and Rascal House — as well as Southern California’s Jerry’s Famous Deli.
Sarasota's incarnation of The Original Wolfie's will arrive sometime in October, a few months after the New York-style Palm Avenue Deli opened downtown in July. The obvious question: Can Sarasota support two new New York-style delis, even if one is downtown and the other is in the Rosemary District?
The answer is a resounding yes, according to Shenker, whose restaurant resume in Sarasota goes back 23 years. In fact, says Wolfie's executive chef Shenker, there’s room for even more competition in what he calls the “Jewish food space.”
It’s a familiar argument to those old enough that New York department stores Macy’s and Gimbel’s were once located within a block of each other in Herald Square. In other words, competition is good for everybody. “I’ve been to the Palm Avenue Deli at least 20 times since it opened,” Shenker says.
What the competition doesn’t have is chef Shenker, who has catered many a wedding and bar mitzvah during his years in Florida and has won a flock of customers as he has moved from places like the former Embassy Suites hotel and its later incarnations to Sol’s NYC Delicatessen in a former Applebee’s in Main Plaza. Back in 2016, Sol’s NYC Deli was forced to move to make room for a new development in Main Plaza.
In many ways, linking with the investors who are bringing Wolfie’s and its Rascal House to the Rosemary District is coming full circle for Shenker. He once worked at the Rascal House in Miami, a onetime hangout for gangsters like Meyer Lansky, though that was before Shenker's time.
Like many a restaurateur, Shenker has had his ups and downs in the business, including a dispute with his relatives over one of his previous delis. But where the Culinary Institute of America grad and his cheesecake recipe go, his customers will follow.
Shenker waxes nostalgic about his time at Sol’s NYC deli and how an elderly gentleman once sent a note in Yiddish comparing the chef’s matzo ball soup favorably to that made by the customer’s mother.
As he took a break from working with electricians at the new Wolfie’s to grab a cup of joe at the nearby Project Coffee in the Rosemary District, Shenker was greeted with open arms by a former legal associate. (We’ll take that as a good sign.)
There’s a lot of mystery surrounding The Original Wolfie’s. It’s opening “sometime in October,” says Shenker. He will not reveal where his bagels, bread and deli meats are being sourced, except to say they are coming from New York. He also declined to name the new eatery's owner.
The only thing that Shenker loves more than Jewish food and his customers is his wife, Marta. Shenker met the former ballerina in the Catskills 12 years ago, and they’ve been inseparable ever since.
He followed Marta to Colorado, where she is studying veterinary science, and is commuting back and forth from Florida to the Rockies. Try managing that lifestyle along with the care and feeding of six chihuahuas and volunteer work with the Humane Society. It might require a takeout Wolfie's sandwich on rye or two to help you power through.