Paula Weil

Hello Deli – Video

Originally from Calgary, Paula Weil lived in Edmonton for over 40 years. In this video, she talks about Hello Deli, the successful business her family operated for almost 20 years.

Well interesting story — we moved from Calgary to Edmonton to open up a motorcycle shop. My husband and my brother Josh were in partnership in Calgary and decided that the one shop wasn’t enough to support both families so we moved to Edmonton. He opened up just across from Commonwealth Stadium. It was called Accessories Unlimited and they had accessories for all kinds of motorcycles. They built bikes from the ground up and then they also accessorized vehicles by motorbikes. So he was in that for five years and then he sold the interest to my brother because, for Eric, it was a way for him to get into business for himself which he always wanted, but it wasn’t a vehicle that he could relate to. So he sold his interest to my brother Josh and we took the kids and we rented a motorhome and went to California for six weeks. Wherever we went we always made a point of searching for the Jewish delis and loved them. Edmonton didn’t have one at the time so we came back and made the natural progression from Harley’s to corned beef. We rented the spot right next to Eric’s uncle, who was the kosher butcher, Jack Woodrow, may he rest in peace, in partnership with his brother-in-law and cousin. So he rented a part of the other half of the building and we started it in 1979. We opened December 1979 and we were bringing in the bread from Winnipeg because we were told Edmonton didn’t have good rye bread. We tried and this Winnipeg rye bread was amazing but the first time we brought we had to delay our opening because the first shipment was delayed by a snowstorm in Regina. Until it got to us we couldn’t open. So we did that for a while and then it was never as good as fresh baked bread so we decided that good bread fresh was better than the best bread stale. So we started buying from Alberta Bakery and then the Bagel Bin opened up. Bon Ton at that point wasn’t doing any commercial sales so we started with Alberta Bakery and then Bagel Bin opened and we started using their rye bread and such. That was December ‘79 and we closed in June of ‘97. When we opened it was “kosher style”. We did have a Reuben and there was cheese and meat on that and then after a while, we got many many requests for things with treif and so we did add a BLT to the menu, we did also add an h.a.m. and cheese to the menu. I can’t even say the word, I have to spell it. They were big sellers, what can I tell you. 

We added live jazz every Thursday night. We probably added it in something like ‘82-’85. Every Thursday night we had live jazz and Eric advertised it through the Journal. And they were very, very busy. We had entertainers like Bobby Cairns, may his soul rest in peace, a Juno award winner, a fab and amazing person. He was an unbelievably talented musician and he was just one of the many. Tommy Banks used to come often — he wouldn’t play at the deli, but he loved it, because he wouldn’t play on a keyboard he would only play on a piano. There was no way we could get a piano in the door of Hello Deli. But he and his wife Ida, made their souls rest in peace, supported us tremendously. They helped us find people and gave us lots of really good advice. It became a staple, it was known all over and became a very integral part of Hello Deli. It was something that we really loved. 

Our son worked every Thursday night when he was in university and then we were one of the founding members of a Taste of Edmonton. When it first opened it was at the Convention Center on the huge patio there. It was a fabulous venue but it became too successful and it outgrew it by the second year. It was like a fire hazard. It was way too crowded so that was when it moved to Winston Churchill Square. We did that for several years and then when our son was in university, he got the idea that he would like to take over and split it with us — I would do the food production and he would do everything else. We did all the festivals and we did that for several years. Once Eric was out of town with the kids, probably in Kelowna, and I was with a friend. We went to the Saturday night of the Folk Festival because there was a klezmer group there. We were walking along and like every five steps I walked into one of our customers and they kept saying “You should have a booth here, why don’t you have a booth here?” So the next year we had a booth there. We were always vegetarian, we had latkes and we did falafel with all the accoutrements that went with that. We did very well at all the festivals. 

I guess the one thing that I want to mention is that Hello Deli wasn’t just me, it was a partnership with my husband. I was the cook, the chef, I did all of that. Eric, he just did everything. He was at the front counter at lunchtime, he did the repairs, he did the accounting, if I needed anything he’d go running and schlepping. He’d pick up anything I needed, no matter where it was. Even in the catering business he supported me completely. He got me the proper vehicle, if I was at an event and realized I forgot a piece of equipment, he’d zip it out there right away. From the moment we started Hello Deli it was a real partnership it just went through the whole time. Even when I was on my own, he was always there, being my right hand, supporting me, and helping me through everything — a real partnership.

Originally from Calgary, Paula Weil lived in Edmonton for over 40 years. In this video she talks about the synagogues with which her family has been involved, as well as the former Jewish Community Centre.

Yiddishkeit is really important to me and to our family. I would say number one would be the home where observances are observed. Number two would be the synagogue. 

The JCC, when it was viable and really active, was a wonderful place. In fact, we moved from Grosvenor into Rio Terrace so my kids could be walking distance to the JCC. They took swimming lessons, they took pottery, they took all kinds of things. Like every day after school they would go to the JCC. In the morning they were there at six o’clock for swimming lessons with Ian Feldman. It was a terrific place. It wasn’t religious, but it was Jewish and everyone there was Jewish. It was a wonderful thing for our family to be close to. 
My husband’s family is very traditional in observances and so we were involved in everything. My mother-in-law always had Friday night dinners, my sister-in-law, may her soul rest in peace, always had the gatherings for the birthdays, and I had the larger gatherings for the seders and Rosh Hashanah and break the fast and such. Yiddishkeit was always a big part of our lives. We were synagogue affiliated; my husband was born and raised in Beth Israel. My father-in-law sang in the choir and we were always at Beth Israel. Then my father-in-law passed away, and then we moved with Beth Israel to the new synagogue which became a little more religious. It didn’t have a microphone so that was a bit of a problem because my husband is hearing impaired. We stayed there for a while but he just couldn’t hear.  When people can’t hear what’s going on, what do they do? They talk, which made it even worse for him. So we decided to go to Beth Shalom where there was a microphone. Even though we belonged to the Beth Israel our observances weren’t strictly Orthodox — we didn’t keep Shabbos, I kept kosher but we didn’t keep Shabbos and such. So we went to Beth Shalom and then the new rabbi of Beth Israel came. He’s my cousin so we thought well, if you’re not going to support family, what’s family all about? So we went back to Beth Israel and they made a point of putting Eric in the second row so that he could hear. Rabbi Claman has turned out to be a real blessing for this community and a blessing for our family. I knew him as a kid and the last time I saw him was in Israel in 2013. He had just gotten married at that point and Penina was pregnant with their first daughter. So it was awesome to see them again and right away we became very close with the kids and with them. Even during COVID, well until things got really bad, we were having porch visits and driveway visits with them. We got very close. I have to say, even being in the Orthodox synagogue we never felt… he always made everyone feel welcome. He’s not dogmatic, he’s not political, he’s very relatable and respects and is kind to everyone, no matter whatever your level of observance is. So we always felt very, very comfortable there. Leaving Edmonton, that was one of the many reasons that it was difficult. His mother and I are first cousins and we grew up together in Calgary and were always very, very close. His grandfather and my father were brothers. When my father, if you can imagine, in 1956 deserted; he just went to work one day and never came back. So my uncle Nate, his father became a real father figure to the three of us Greenberg kids. All of those things just brought Zolly and I really close together. We’re missing them, we’re even missing the driveway visits. We’re Facetiming and having visits, but it’s not the same. I have a niece there, Lisa Grobman, we were in Edmonton for 45 years so we have friends there since we moved. Yet by the same token, leaving in a pandemic is probably the easiest thing to do. We weren’t going anywhere, we weren’t seeing anybody there and so here in Calgary, we’re not going anywhere, we’re not seeing anybody. So for that, it probably helped. Moving, at this time, it hasn’t been terribly emotional for me. I know once things open up and we can see our friends and we meet in Red Deer for lunch, it’s going to become emotional. But at this point, it hasn’t really been because nothing’s changed.

Originally from Calgary, Paula Weil lived in Edmonton for over 40 years. In this video, Paula discusses her involvement at the Fantasyland Hotel/West Edmonton Mall.

I was a catering manager so when people had things at the hotel they would come to me and we would go over a menu and the whole event, and sign a contract. Then I would oversee everything being done. Now when the kosher kitchen opened up there, the first event was the bar mitzvah of one of Nader’s sons I believe. It was an amazing thing — one of the ovens quit and it was crazy, but somehow we got it all together with Jeff Shechter, bless his heart. He was amazing. I would often help in that kitchen with several things that I knew how to give things Yiddish ta’am, Jewish flavor. The chefs there, with all due respect, were wonderful chefs but they weren’t in tune to that palette. So I helped quite a bit with that. Rabbi Ari [Drelich] would supervise a lot; Lawrence Bliss at that time didn’t have the bakery yet, so he was helping out and supervising, being the mashgiach. It was very cool actually, helping get that up and running. There were a few hiccups with it, but overall it’s been a wonderful uh thing the Ghermezians did to have that in the community. It’s important to have those things and so the rest — having the restaurant at West Edmonton Mall, having the Kollel, and the school, just everything… They did a tremendous amount for this city and I think a lot more than people ever knew. They did a lot behind the scenes that they weren’t looking for credit for, but just to support the yiddishkeit in the community. They were fantastic and they were great to work for. I really enjoyed working there.
When I left there, I at that point decided that I wanted to go back out on my own. Although I enjoyed working there, I wanted to go back to being entrepreneurial. So that’s when I went back to catering and event planning and that was in 2003. I still had been doing small little catering even while I was working there, the little things like brises, unveilings, and even the odd funeral. But then I went back to full-time catering and I started doing event planning — wedding planning, bar mitzvah planning, and I really enjoyed working with my customers. The majority of my customers were Jewish, and I loved working with Jewish people. It was the mentality that we shared that was so attractive to me. But, of course, if non-Jewish people came to me I was only too happy to work with them also. I did Ann McClellan’s daughter’s wedding and several other high-profile things that were always very successful. I was delighted that they had chosen me and honored me with their trust.

Originally from Calgary, Paula Weil lived in Edmonton for over 40 years. In this video, she discusses her work at Our Parents’ Home.

I was approached by Sharon Marcus and also somebody else, but mainly Sharon Marcus about being the mashgiach at Our Parents’ Home, or mashgicha, as they call with the feminine version. At first I said no, I didn’t really want to get back into working. Long story short, they begged, pleaded, and cajoled and so I came for an interview. The interview went great, we signed a contract, and I started there in January 2019. I loved it from the first moment. As I said to my son “I love my seniors” and Marc says, “Mum, you’re a senior.” I said, “No, I’m a junior-senior, these are senior-seniors.” I always involved everyone — if I made knishes, we had them for dinner. I mean they went to the kosher people, but I also made enough for dinner that night for everybody. When it was the holidays, like on Rosh Hashanah we did packages with an apple and honey and a little explanation. For all the holidays we did special things. We did them for the whole residence, not just the Jewish residents. I got to know the people — I spent a fair amount of time in the front of the house and I really got to know people, their preferences, likes and dislikes. So on a certain day if I made cream of tomato soup I made sure that they called certain people that I know love tomato soup. At that point, they weren’t posting things ahead, so we started doing that. I got to know people and I just loved my job. The hours were perfect — I was working from nine to one, Monday to Friday. We started doing Shabbat dinners again. They had done Shabbat dinners before when the previous mashgiach was there and they were getting eight or ten people. Once I started doing them we had to cut them off at 35 or 40 because they would take at least half of the dining room and we couldn’t encroach on everybody. There were many non-Jewish people that came for the dinners also. Mr. Chetner conducted the services and he had handouts that he gave everyone all the time with all the prayers. It was an abridged version of Shabbos but it was a lovely version of Shabbos. Every month we made different things; brisket one month, then chicken one month, and veal another month. I kept everything rotating so it was a real treat for everybody. One of the funniest things was one of the Shabboses was a very hot summer day so I made gazpacho, but I had a feeling that this one older lady would not like it. She was very traditional and actually a Holocaust survivor beside that, older in her 90s and very traditional with what you have on Shabbos. So I went up to her and I asked her if she liked it and she told me no, you don’t serve cold soup on Shabbos. So I went into the kitchen and I warmed up another bowl for her and she loved it. I mean little things like that I was so happy to do for people. I got to feel like some of them were like my parents or uncles or aunts. Even after I had my accident and I wasn’t working there anymore, I got calls from many of the residents to see how I was and when I was coming back. It was very gratifying. It was a lovely year of my life and I really enjoyed it. There wasn’t an aspect of it that I didn’t like — the staff were fantastic to work with, we helped each other. There was no “this is your area and this is my area”. If I was done in my area I’d go into the non-kosher kitchen and see if they needed help. And if I needed help and there was someone there that could help, I could bring them in and show them what I needed done and it would get done. It was a beautiful part of my life and I was heartbroken when I had my accident and I couldn’t go anymore, but you know things like that happen.