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Baltic Sea to Buffalo

Ben and Emilia Kagan and their towering corned beef sandwich (photo by Rose Mattrey)

Meet Ben and Emilia Kagan, proprietors the region's last Jewish deli

It was nearly four decades ago that two teenagers met on the Baltic Sea and fell in love. More than 35 years later, that couple now calls Buffalo their home.

Communism reigned supreme in the USSR when Ben Kagan and Emilia Berg met. Ben’s family lived in Latvia’s capital, the seaport city of Riga. Riga was (and continues to be) one of the largest and most industrial cities in the Baltic. Ben worked as a service repairman. Emilia grew up just west of Riga in the small resort town of Yurmala, where she attended music school and practiced piano. Both Ben and Emilia came from small families, and both desired to search out a better life than what the USSR had to offer.

When they decided to leave Latvia in 1978, Buffalo was their city of choice. “Ben’s sister lived here,” Emilia says. “If you were going to move, you would want move to where you knew someone.”

The Kagans found work quickly. Ben returned to the service repair industry, while Emilia found a job at Sym’s department store. The couple toiled away while caring for their two children—one born in Latvia, the other in Buffalo—and carving out a life in their adopted city.

In 1991 the Kagans decided, once again, to take a chance and find a business to call their own. What they found was Brown’s Kosher Meats, a kosher butcher shop and deli, which at the time resided in the Northtown Plaza in Amherst.

For Jewish-Russian immigrants, a kosher deli seemed like the perfect fit. Brown’s was ready to close its doors when the Kagans took over. They immediately set about to re-invent the deli. “We reinvigorated it (the deli) in many, many ways,” Ben says.

The Kagans’ success with Brown’s created a need for expansion. Their client base was moving deeper into the suburbs so the Kagans followed, moving Brown’s Kosher Meats to 7900 Transit Road in

Nosh is a wide-open and brightly lit delicatessen. It has the character of an old, New York kosher Jewish deli, replete with Eastern European flavors. In the traditional deli style, customers are greeted by large refrigerated glass cases showcasing homemade salads, slaws, and cold cuts. Large menu boards announce both regular and specialty items. The menu is huge and holds some very special treats for those in the know.

Emilia is the baker and resident chef. She prides herself on her challah, a specialty braided bread eaten on the Sabbath and holidays, and on her strudels and apricot rolls. And don’t forget the rye bread, an indispensable fixture of any true deli.

Like her baked goods, Emilia’s soups and salads change daily. The deli carries classics like lentil, matzoh ball, and split pea soup. There are also amply portioned fresh salads and slaws, stuffed cabbage, crepes, latkes, and knish. “Everything is made from scratch,” Emilia says proudly.

Ben heads up the butcher and cold-cut end of the business, and he does it well. At Nosh, they follow strict kosher laws when dealing with meats. All of their meats are hand-selected and prepared under close supervision. The chickens contain no hormones or antibiotics and the deli does not use any dairy.

Nosh offers traditional Jewish deli favorites such as brisket, corned beef, and pastrami. Ben also makes a homemade sausage of turkey and veal. The real favorites on the menu, however, are those items that are nearly extinct in Western New York: Nosh offers fresh chopped liver as well as tongue, but Ben’s masterpiece is his rolled beef.

Rolled beef is so labor-intensive to make that a true version of it is impossible to find anywhere in in the Buffalo area except at Nosh. Although he refuses to share his recipe for this endangered deli meat, Ben does note that it takes several weeks to make. The meat is similar to corned beef and cured in a similar fashion. It is placed in a barrel of brine for several weeks, then cured again. It’s not on the regular menu; you must ask for it by name.

In case you can’t wait to sink your teeth into a pastrami on rye, Nosh has a large and comfortable dining area. They offer all items for takeout as well. The Kagans are happy to create specialty platters and will cater on or off premises. Nosh is open six days a week (closed on Saturdays) for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

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