Kosher deli in Vancouver, first established in 1910, looks for new owners to continue founder's legacy

Efrem 'Eppy' Rappaport, owner of Omitsky Deli, a kosher deli on Oak street, is looking for a buyer to take over the business as he prepares for retirement. (Justine Boulin/CBC - image credit)
Efrem 'Eppy' Rappaport, owner of Omitsky Deli, a kosher deli on Oak street, is looking for a buyer to take over the business as he prepares for retirement. (Justine Boulin/CBC - image credit)

For almost four decades, Efrem "Eppy" Rappaport has owned and operated what's been described as Western Canada's only kosher meat processing plant and deli.

But at 65, Rappaport says he is looking for another owner to take over Omnitsky Kosher Deli on Oak Street in Vancouver as he prepares for retirement.

"I've actually recently listed the business for sale and I'm looking for a potential suitor to take over at this point in time," he told Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition.

The deli owner says he first bought the business from William Omnitsky in Winnipeg in 1983. Omnitsky's father, Louis, first opened the business in 1910.

Rappaport then moved to Vancouver, where he first set up the deli on Cambie Street in 1997, then relocated it in 2014 to its current location on Oak Street.

"When I came out to Vancouver 27 years ago, there were little to no services available for people to ... keep a proper kosher home," he said.

Justine Boulin/CBC
Justine Boulin/CBC

Since then he's become known for his pastrami and corned beef sandwiches, with some customers like Michael Beher coming a great distance to dine at Omnitsky's.

"There isn't a good kosher deli within 1,200 miles of Seattle, the other closest place would be Los Angeles," said Beher, who lives in Seattle. He said he's been coming to the Vancouver deli since 1997.

WATCH | Omnitsky's customer Michael Beher explains why he travels from Seattle to Vancouver to eat at the kosher deli: 

Growing up with a rabbi father, Rappaport says there was a lot of emphasis on tradition and keeping the rules of Judaism alive.

So when the opportunity came to provide kosher meat for the Jewish community in Vancouver, he jumped at the chance.

Rappaport said customers had to order kosher meat from Toronto or Winnipeg before he opened the business in Vancouver in 1997, and that closing the deli would be a huge loss to the community.

Justine Boulin/CBC
Justine Boulin/CBC

"I promised [my customers] that in one way or another, we are going to find a way for this to continue in a proper manner to service their needs for years in the future," he said.

Rabbi Philip Bregman, who says he knows Rappaport and his deli well, also said it plays an important role for Jewish people in Vancouver.

"We're not going to be eating in a restaurant unless they serve kosher meat, which are very, very few and far between," he said.

Justine Boulin/CBC
Justine Boulin/CBC

The word "kosher" comes from Hebrew and means "fit for use or fit for consumption," according to the certification agency Kashruth Council of Canada.

It relates to a body of laws found in both the Bible and Talmud and is relied upon by many different groups in addition to the Jewish community — including vegetarians, people of other faiths, those with certain allergies or others who simply prefer the fact that the food has gone through a third-party certification process.

Passing on the tradition

Yvonne Smith, one of the first employees Rappaport hired in Vancouver, says she learned a lot from working with Rappaport, including how to make Jewish desserts like knish.

"I didn't know anything about kosher food ... so he brought a lady in from Winnipeg to show me and she taught me how to make knish. I learned a lot about the Jewish religion while working there," Smith told CBC News.

Smith worked for Rappaport for 20 years at the processing plant before moving to 100 Mile House, B.C., but she says she often returned to help — especially during Passover.

Submitted by Yvonne Smith
Submitted by Yvonne Smith

"It was stressful especially around holiday times ... but everyone was really happy with everything [Rappaport] did for them," she said.

"He really worked hard for his community and a lot of people rely on him to have kosher food in the city."