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Stories You Might Have Missed: PRX, Irene Cara & The Last Days of Kishka? [Updated]

The loss of a recluse pop icon and the dying days of kishka on this week’s installment.

Moe Paneers Delicattesen

Do you remember where you were when you heard the news? My Zaida was holding my hand as I dragged behind him and my Kodiak snow boots were making a mess in the slushy parking lot in front of Pancer’s Deli on Bathurst Street.

“Avrum, they killed John Lennon,” said the man behind the deli counter as we pushed our way inside the narrow doorway and into the silent group of noshers who had grown up with the Beatles.

Half-eaten sandwiches told the tale. An uneasy and almost creepy silence overcame what was usually a boisterous crowd devouring hot pastrami on rye, kurnatzels, greasy fries with gravy. Cans of Vernors were getting warm on the worn tables and and losing their potency.

Moe Paneers Original
Lorne Pancer, Pancer’s Deli, Toronto, Ontario

My Zaida spoke passable English; Yiddish and Polish were all he really knew but having raised a house filled with daughters who had been obsessed with Paul, John, Ringo, and George — even he understood the totality of what the deli man had just told him.

I was old enough to understand that the murder of John Lennon was a really bad thing and that my mother and aunt were likely sitting at my Bubie’s table crying hysterically when the news broke over the CBC’s airwaves.

We sat at the Shabbos table and ate our matzo ball soup, knishes, kasha with varnishkas, pastrami and tongue on rye — in abject silence.

My siblings and I were far too young to appreciate what the 1960s were like in Toronto; how Beatlemania had left its mark even on the Holocaust survivor community.

My mother left the radio on in the background and we listened to hours of the Beatles and the global reaction to the senseless murder of John Lennon.

My parents would eventually live not that far from the Dakota and one of my sister’s has walked past it 0000s of times over the past 25 years. Whilst in the the city a few weeks back visiting my sister who lives on the Upper West Side, I also made the trek by the famous building and it most certainly felt weird.

Make Mine a Fatty with Some Kishka and Gravy

The Beatles were a constant in our home growing up. So was the smell of greasy deli meat. Not the garbage you buy today in sealed packages from Whole Foods or Wegmans.

What love went into those $8 packages of pressed turkey breast?

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Pancer Sandwich

How many conversations about the mafia, war, Maple Leafs not winning the Stanley Cup, divorce, upcoming Bar Mitzvahs, the not-so-good doctor across the street caught showing his salami to Mrs. Rosen in the backseat of his Mercedes — took place in those meat packing plants in the middle of nowhere outside of Des Moines?

The declining health of a parent has made me spend more time in my hometown (two developments that I rather dislike) over the past 12 months and between the terrible traffic, anti-Israel protests, surging antisemitism, and first round collapse of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the current NHL Playoffs (which felt very normal) — Toronto is not a place I would ever consider returning to.

New Jersey doesn’t feel all the welcoming anymore and it’s more likely that I will end up in Netanya or Cape Town based on how things are going.

If I miss anything about my childhood growing up in Toronto, especially having grown up within the restaurant community because it was how my family finally made it (only to lose it and have to start again) and where I spent countless hours in the kitchens of some of the city’s biggest dives and priciest white table restaurants — it is the deli.

Are these the dying days of Kishka? I’ll cry for it far more than I ever did the demise of disco.

Deli Fries

It was our place of refuge after a late-night hockey game or failed date; where we sat in worn-out booths listening to classic rock over the two barely functioning Radio Shack speakers bolted to the wall above the deli counter.

Old men sat in the tiny booths and complained about their wives, jobs, the asshole boss who wouldn’t give their kid a raise, and the first Trudeau who was driving the country into a Socialist abyss.

Manny's Delicatessen
Manny’s Delicatessen, Chicago, Illinois

Having experienced more delis than one could possibly imagine over the past 54 years; from Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Miami Beach, Toronto, Montreal, Atlanta, D.C., New York, Newark, and even the streets of Paris — I’ve finally come to the realization that what’s left will be the last of its kind.


The deli and history of music are intertwined. Every memory; good and horrible, can be connected to the deli.

David Steinberg and the late-John Candy would be late arrivals at Pancer’s or Yitzy’s (I proudly played right wing for the hockey team in the Forest Hill Hockey Association) and photos of SCTV alumni and famous Canadian rock stars lined the wood-paneled walls.

Hockey Team

Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of Rush would sit (as my parent’s did being the same age and from the same neighborhood) at Pancer’s and share a plate of fries and soda with their friends — it was all anyone could afford.

Nobody came just for the greasy meat or very unhealthy calories — it was all about the company and talk about the future; which seemed like the only thing that one could do in the years after their parents had been liberated from Hitler’s Concentration Camps in Poland.

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The famous Jewish delis of Montreal and New York are not even owned by the same families anymore and when they murdered Abe Lebewohl of the 2nd Avenue Deli in NYC — it was really almost closing time.

Katz’s in NYC still has the vibe but it’s mostly tourists at this point.

Katz Deli NYC 2022

The term “deli” has been become part of our cultural lexicon but isn’t really used in its proper context; it’s where people can go now and get a sandwich, and that basically applies to every bodega, fast food establishment, and cafe on the planet.

At a time when antisemitism is being normalized in our culture, I’m going to push back rather hard on this one. The deli is where Jews and their non-Jewish friends found refuge from the world to kibbitz and enjoy greasy meat on proper rye bread and they didn’t have to spend $15 for a sandwich with avocado and turkey breast on multi-grain toast.

Fame & $120 VHS Tapes

Back in 2022, I ventured into Princeton Record Exchange and heard the news over the radio that Irene Cara had passed away at 63, I felt as if I had been transported back to 1980 — and not just because of John Lennon.

My father had changed my life back in 1979 with one of the first JVC Vidstar VCRs in the neighborhood, and while our home video collection consisted of less than 20 films, we knew every line from all of them.

Only 20?

It seems strange to say that in 2022 when I stare at a film collection that is rapidly approaching 3,700 titles, but films on VHS in 1980 were $120 apiece.

When my father brought a store purchased copy of Fame home one night, we became very excited because it was not a film they would take us to see in the theater. It was full of risqué language, nudity, drugs, and a soft-core porn scene with Irene Cara that they were never letting us see.

We waited almost a month and blackmailed the babysitter into letting us watch it while she made out with her boyfriend in the backyard.

Irene Cara took the world by storm with her vocal range and Flashdance made her a Grammy, Oscar, and Golden Globe Award winning singer.

She did sing on an additional 15 movie soundtracks but D.C. Cab and City Heat were a significant drop for someone who had shared the limelight with Giorgio Moroder and was #1 on the Billboard charts.

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The cause of her death has not been released.

Princeton Record Exchange Sign

Trouble Brewing For Record Stores?

2023 was a relatively good year for independent record stores with new vinyl sales experiencing a rather significant lift from Taylor Swift, but two recent trips to Jack’s Music Shoppe and Princeton Record Exchange have me concerned about 2024.

Consumers are starting to grumble slightly louder about the price of new records; I purchased over 50 new records in 2021 and only 12 in 2022. My 2023 acquisitions were almost even with 2022. Craft Recordings, were rather generous and sent me over a dozen new releases that we have covered.

I can’t justify it anymore. And I’m getting the sense that a lot of buyers are looking at $30 and $40 releases and heading to the “used” section or buying CDs.

Princeton Record Exchange CDs
CDs at Princeton Record Exchange

PRX has fewer records than I have seen in many months and the used CD section was really busy the last two times I’ve visited; the store is less than a block from Princeton University and Nassau Street where all of the action takes place.

It’s actually worth it for me to drop the kids off at school, visit Maman Bakery around the corner, and spend 30-40 minutes looking at used CDs because I always leave with 5-6 titles and never spend more than $25.

A trip over the weekend to Jack’s in Red Bank; one of New Jersey’s richest towns and less than 2 miles from Bruce’s front door in Rumson was rather odd; the store was empty on a Saturday and the bins seemed somewhat dusty.

6 jazz titles on CD for $19.

Are consumers ditching independent record stores for online purchases only?

That would be bad for those who don’t have a strong presence on Discogs.

My summer travel plans have me visiting New England, Florida, Montreal, and Toronto with the goal of focusing on some independent record stores that have become integral parts of their respective local record scenes.

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  1. Mike Cornell

    December 6, 2022 at 1:31 pm

    Always love your Toronto tales, Ian! Went to Scwhartz’s in Montreal on a recent trip to Quebec as we’d never been before. Would have to agree that 90% of the customers, maybe more are tourists, also reflected in the $13.50/sandwich price!

    • Ian White

      December 6, 2022 at 2:42 pm


      One of the funniest meals on my life was at Schwartz’s in 2000 while covering the Montreal Audio Show. We stood outside in the cold for an hour on a Friday night and we met some real characters inside.

      It is still narrow and loud?

      We sat near the small grill that they used for the steaks and the smell was awesome to me — just not for my dinner companion.

      Toronto lost its soul when all of the delis started to close. Pancer’s might be the only “real one left.


      • Mike Cornell

        December 6, 2022 at 6:29 pm

        Still narrow and loud and you definitely have to line up. We ended up on the take-out side as the line was slightly shorter. Enjoyed watching them slice up the meat and put together the sandwiches. Fries were good too!

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