This Kosher-style deli has served generations of Fort Worth people. Take cash if you go
At Carshon’s Deli, a local institution with roots stretching back more than 90 years, credit cards are taboo. Repeat customers know to pay with cash or local checks.
Yet the kosher-style deli is so 21st century, it has a web site (carshonsdeli.com), a four-star Yelp review, and an amusing low-carb option (“Go breadless”).
Gone are the days when founder Dave Carshon’s daughter, Betty Carshon Applebaum, sliced by hand homemade loaves of pumpernickel, rye, wheat and egg bread. (These days, the bread comes from a local bakery, and an antique electric slicer does the rest.)
Gone are the days when Betty made a year’s supply of pickles, selecting cucumbers when they came into season and submerging them in brine. Longtime employees Ruby, Sybil and Merle, who staffed the counter, handed children a dill pickle, as if it were a lollipop.
(Today, Carshon’s orders Schwartz Empire pickles — five, 5-gallon kegs a week — and diners get a pickle spear with every sandwich.)
Until the summer of 1947, Carshon’s Deli was strictly kosher. The founder’s granddaughter, Sara Applebaum Baker, 85, remembers when Rabbi M.J. Leibson, a schochet (Yiddish for ritual slaughterer), arrived in the kitchen to kill chickens, kosher style. He held them by the feet and ritually severed the jugular vein, a quick, humane, religiously prescribed way to drain the blood. After the feathers were plucked, the staff washed the kitchen floor at 1010 Houston St. with a garden hose.
Sides of kosher beef hung in the kitchen. Beef was delivered from the local Swift & Co. meatpacking plant, where a Dallas cantor, the Rev. Abraham Fram, supervised the monthly “kosher kill.” Butchers at Carshon’s carved the meat into briskets, chuck roasts, rib roasts, and rib steaks.
“So many people kept kosher then,” Sara recalled. “The meat that didn’t sell was used for the restaurant.”
Demand waned after World War II as immigrants assimilated. The kosher era at Carshon’s ended July 19, 1947, after owner Abe Applebaum, the founder’s son-in-law, typed a memo announcing: “Due to the increase of prices of fresh meats and the small amount that is used by the Jewish people in Fort Worth, I have decided to discontinue to handle kosher fresh killed meats.” With that, the deli transitioned from “kosher” to “kosher-style.”
The transition didn’t make much difference to the clientele — a mix of downtown business people on a first-name basis with one another and the staff, which seldom changed.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram publisher Amon Carter routinely met friends for lunch. Legendary ranchers George Beggs and Cass Edwards held court, each on a different day of the week.
With kosher-style came an expanded menu that included the Reuben — corned beef or pastrami with sauerkraut on grilled rye, topped with Swiss, a no-no in the kosher era when mixing meat and dairy products was prohibited. Specialty sandwiches — dubbed the Ruthie, Rachel, Rebecca, and Rutherford — were to follow.
Carshon’s dates to 1925 when two Eastern European immigrants, Dave Carshon (1890-1935) and Morris Chicotsky (1883-1958), partnered to open a kosher meat market and café in the Electric Co. Building at 11th and Throckmorton. The pair had worked together as officers at Congregation Ahavath Sholom. At different junctures, each served as synagogue president. In February of 1928, they amicably went their separate ways. According to a “Special Announcement” in the Fort Worth Record-Telegram, Chicotsky “sold his undivided half interest of the Kosher Market and Delicatessen ... and hereafter it will be run under the name of Carshon’s Kosher Delicatessen and Café.”
Chicotsky went on to operate a specialty grocery. After Prohibition’s repeal in December 1933, he added a large alcoholic beverage section. Today his grandsons Robert and Mark Chicotsky operate the city’s oldest wine and liquor store at 3429 W. Seventh St.
Meanwhile, Carshon’s underwent a couple of moves. By 1934 the deli was operating at 1010 Houston St. The following year, Dave Carshon died. His widow, Ella Rosener Carshon, took charge for six years, and in 1941 handed operations over to Betty and Abe Applebaum. When Abe took a short-lived retirement in the late 1950s, several different owners operated the business. However, Abe “missed everyone,” said his daughter. When he came out of retirement in 1959, “almost all the staff was still there.” He operated Carshon’s at 2850 W. Berry St. until his death in 1967.
In 1973, the deli moved nearby to land Betty Applebaum had bought at 3133 Cleburne Road. The parcel is a veritable island of concrete across from the railroad tracks, just south of an angular intersection at Berry and Cleburne, which is an extension of Eighth Avenue. “It’s not on a lot of maps,” says Mary Swift, current co-owner. In 1982 Swift’s husband Dennis and his law partner Elliott Garsek, grandson of Dave Carshon, bought the deli and for several years expanded it into a wine bar. In 2005, the Swifts became full owners. Their daughter, Stephanie, grew up in the deli and is its food-safety manager.
The face of the restaurant today is Mary Swift, renowned for her homemade pies. At Thanksgiving, she fills an entire wall with pies ordered for holiday dinners. Families headed out of town order apple and pecan because they travel well. Families dining at home choose from Mary’s meringue pies — lemon, chocolate, coconut, banana and butterscotch.
In decades gone by, the deli sold little chocolate cookies at the bakery counter. “They were delicious, but not like Mary’s pies,” says Sara. At Carshon’s Deli, after almost a century, the dessert selections are better than ever, the sandwich menu has expanded, and the family atmosphere continues from one generation of customers and staff to the next.
Hollace Ava Weiner, an author and historian, is director of the Fort Worth Jewish Archives.