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Shelley Wiseman, owner of Edmart Delicatessen, is retiring and closing the store that has been a fixture in downtown Pikesville since 1958.

“What am I, chopped liver?” The old saying would have little resonance at Edmart, a Pikesville deli where chopped chicken liver happened to be the second most popular item on the menu, according to employee Steven Gordon, who called it “Jewish foie gras.”

At Edmart, he said, it was made with hardboiled egg and schmaltz, rendered chicken fat. Overhearing Gordon tell this to a reporter, cook Devon Hamilton chided his coworker for giving away the the business’ secrets. But what does it matter? Gordon wondered: Edmart closed for good on New Year’s Eve.

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Owner Shelley Lev Wiseman, whose father helped open Edmart 61 years ago, said she wanted to spend more time with her family. “I haven’t seen my grandchildren,” she said. “And they just grow up so fast.” Wiseman is open to selling the business, and has heard from an interested buyer, whom she declined to name. “We don’t know what the future of Edmart will be."

Still, news of the closure came as a disappointment to Edmart’s mostly older Jewish customer base and others who have frequented the shop.

For years, customer Ira Miller had been coming by daily for a sandwich with a side of chit chat. “The quality is always excellent," he said. The staff here became like family to him.

Politicians ate here, and so did Oprah Winfrey, when she lived in Baltimore.

“Oprah used to get her bagels sliced in threes when she was dieting," Wiseman said.

Tastes are changing, Gordon said. His own nephews are eating sushi and tacos, not corned beef on rye. “Times change, people change.”

Customers recall some of their memories of Lenny's Deli, set to close this weekend. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

It’s the latest in a wave of historic Jewish delis and restaurants in Baltimore closing, including Lenny’s Delicatessen - of Corned Beef Row in the city - and Gourmet Again, in the county, which went out of business in 2017 and 2019, respectively. And it’s not just in Baltimore. According to The New York Times, there are around just 20 kosher delis in New York City, down from more than 1,500 Jewish delis in the 1930s.

Edmart’s unusual name was a combination of the names of its original owners, Wiseman’s New York-born father, Martin Lev, and his business partner, Ed Stern. Lev bought out his partner months after the shop opened, but he never changed the name.

Inside, little seemed to have changed from those days. Hanging on the walls were wooden placards with fake meats that likely seemed very fashionable when Edmart first opened. On the shelves were dusty jars of pickles Gordon said he didn’t realize were just for show until mistakenly selling one to a customer.

As the business prepared to close and shelves began to look bare, Hamilton, the Trinidadian born chef, was still preparing orders for customers; creamed herring for the new year. When he began working at Edmart 22 years ago, he couldn’t make a single Jewish dish. He learned quickly. He layered herring onto sour cream and onions for an order. “I’s the only one that can make it like this,” he said.

The deli’s most popular dish was the brisket, which has even been featured on Duff Goldman’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate.” Every time the episode aired on the Food Network, a new crop of diners came in to try it.

Edmart’s brisket was cooked in the same Vulcan oven that was installed a few years after the delicatessen opened on Reisterstown Road in 1958. With each use, it developed a new patina that helped flavor the meat. You could use the same recipe with the same cut of meat, and without that old oven, Gordon said, it just won’t taste as good.

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