Gershon’s Deli: Schenectady’s Sandwich Shop For Nearly 70 Years
Looking for a hot pastrami on rye from a New York City–worthy deli all the way up here in Schenectady? Well, you’re in the right place. Head on over to Union Street, where Gershon’s Deli has been serving Electric City sandwich-lovers for nearly seven decades.
“All of our salads and meats are made in-house the old way,” says owner Antonia “Toni” Nelson, who, with her sister, took over the pillar of Schenectady’s lunch scene from her father, Tony Lauria, when he passed away in 2016. “We’re still using Lena’s recipes from the 1950s and we still prepare everything from scratch—no shortcuts.” Lena which Nelson refers to is Lena Gershon, who established Gershon’s in 1954 with her husband, Irv. The couple grew the business quickly, moving it across the street to the deli’s current location in 1956, and after nearly 20 years sold it to their nephew, Bob Lessner. At this time, Nelson’s mother got a job at the deli, and eventually got her husband—Lauria—a job too. Lauria became like a son to Lessner, and eventually took over Gershon’s from him, running it with business partner Lou Gregory until Gregory retired in 2009. Nelson then ran the shop, which also has a catering arm, until his death in 2016. In total, he presided over the Gershon’s name for 31 years.
“I have a couple of customers who are like, “I remember you running around here when you were a child,” Nelson says about growing up at Gershon’s. “And now my daughter is running around here the same way.”
So while she’s only officially worked at the deli since 2016, Nelson has been witnessing first-hand what it takes to run a successful business her whole life. The secret? Consistency and quality. “If we don’t have those,” she says, “we don’t have anything.”
One of Nelson’s favorite things about running Gershon’s, she admits, are the Reubens. “I’ll go other places and I’ll get a Reuben,” she says, “and I’m always like, ‘Why’d I get a Reuben here? Ours are so much better.’ But the real reason she loves presiding over the family business isn’t something you can find on the deli’s extensive soup, salad or sandwich menus. “I love seeing the regulars and their kids and their families,” she says. “I like that Gershon’s is such a part of people’s history. People always come in and tell me stories about coming here on Sundays after church when they were little. There’s just a lot of history working here and I love being a part of it.”