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Acts of Intentional Kindness: Risa’s Deli

For those of you who follow this column, we have not suddenly become restaurant reviewers for Buffalo Rising. As it turns out, Acts of Intentional Kindness are not limited to not for profits, but occur daily in lots of for profit (hopefully!) businesses in our city.
Case in point – Risa of Risa’s Deli on Hertel Ave. As we enter Risa’s Deli, we are reminded of the lyrics to the “Cheers” theme song, specifically the part that goes…
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same.
You wanna be where everybody knows your name.

Risa’s Deli is the quintessential neighborhood restaurant. Small, family owned, family recipes, great value, patronized by ‘regulars’ – it is like being invited to a friend’s home for a meal. Everything is made with love. Even if this is your first time, you are welcomed into the family. By your second time, Risa knows your name. By your third time, be ready to help serve coffee to all your new friends!
Our interview for this article is a prime example. As Risa sat with us, in walked a regular. Risa got up from our table, greeted a man named Rick and said she needed to take a minute to wait on him. She knew he had come in to enjoy a bowl of her delicious matzo ball soup, read the daily paper, chat, and finish with a world class corned beef sandwich. (Yum, Al’s personal favorite!) Although this was our first time meeting Rick, we felt comfortable joining in on the conversation as they shared their daily update. In fact, Risa said that when she does not see a regular for awhile, she calls to make sure they are all right. Now that is customer service!
I’m told that Saturday morning has its own set of regulars who chow down on challah French toast or even matzah brei. Everyone has their favorite table. Everyone has their favorite dish. But Risa is the thread who holds it all together.
Risa grew up in the Buffalo restaurant world due to her grandparents owning a restaurant on Washington Street. The next generation followed suit, with Risa’s dad, Stumpy, who once owned restaurants on Hertel and on Delaware. These restaurants set the family tradition of running a restaurant where no one leaves hungry and everyone feels at home.
Many of Risa’s patrons especially remember her mom, Anne. Until last fall, Anne was a fixture at the deli. She would often invite people off the street to come in for a bite to eat. During her latter years, Anne struggled with Alzheimer’s, but continued to greet customers with a smile. Anne was a key part of the family.
A few months ago, Anne passed away. In April, on the day that would have been Anne’s 93rd birthday, Risa baked a birthday cake and invited patrons of the restaurant to ‘celebrate’ her mother’s life and legacy. Additionally, Risa has set up a memorial fund in Anne’s name in order to support the Alzheimer’s foundation.
Risa’s Deli is open six days a week for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast includes corned beef hash, salami and eggs, blintzes, and more. For lunch, her cabbage soup is better than Grandma’s and her sandwiches are delightful. They include corned beef, turkey, chicken salad, chopped liver, egg salad, and more. To top off your meal, Risa is known for her homemade cheesecake and bread pudding.
The next time you feeling the need to be “where everybody knows your name”, stop by Risa’s Deli at 1298 Hertel Ave. We promise she’ll make you feel like family, right down to the friendly banter.
By the way, you have an opportunity to create a ‘Cheers’ atmosphere wherever you are. Get to know your neighbors, classmates, workmates. Pay it forward. Be intentionally kind. Buffalo – the City of Good Neighbors!
Risa’s Deli
1298 Hertel
Buffalo, NY 14216
Ph 447.2990
Hours: M-F 8AM-4 PM
Sat 8AM-3PM, closed Sundays

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