Roslyn Kosher Foods to close its doors after nearly 40 years

Roslyn Kosher Foods to close its doors after nearly 40 years
Emily Jacobson (left), Erwin "Eddie" Jacobson (middle) and Julie Jacobson (right). (Courtesy of Emily Jacobson)

Emily Jacobson never thought she would have to run Roslyn Kosher Foods on her own.

The small shop, which Emily inherited from her father, has been open for 39 years, offering kosher meat, groceries and prepared foods. It is a staple for members of the Albertson community to do their weekly shopping and pick up meals for dinner.

But now Emily has to endure the arguably more difficult task of shutting down Roslyn Kosher Foods on her own. In the hour we spent together, we were interrupted easily 10 times by customers offering their condolences.

“I’m really going to miss you,” said one customer, who grasped Jacobson’s hand and leaned in for a hug.

“Where am I supposed to go now?” asked another customer, who complained that she did not want to make the drive to East Meadow or Great Neck for good kosher groceries.

“It’s a shock before Passover,” said another customer, already planning for the end of April.

Emily understands, but after downsizing staff to just herself and one other person working on the store floor, she knew the business would not be able to handle the usual Passover rush.

But Roslyn Kosher Foods is practically a landmark at this point. Emily’s father, Erwin “Eddie” Jacobson, opened the store with his wife Glady in 1985, which was a feat in and of itself.

Eddie was a Holocaust survivor who emigrated from Romania to New York after World War II when he was just 14 years old. He had lost his entire family during the war.

In New York, Eddie got his first job in a local butcher shop plucking feathers from chickens.

“That’s how he found the interest,” said Emily. “After what he went through, I don’t really know if he ever just dreamed about being a chicken plucker.”

After working at the butcher shop, Eddie served in the Korean War and rose to the rank of sergeant. He later received an honorable discharge.

While attending college, Eddie decided to return to the kosher meat business, working in various Manhattan meat markets in the 1950s. He became the owner of a shop on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan. After rent hikes pushed him out of his West Side store, Eddie eventually took over ownership of Roslyn Kosher Foods in Albertson, the town where he would raise his two daughters, Julie and Emily.

Although Emily has been running the store for years now on her own, she never assumed she would be involved with the business in any capacity when she was growing up. In fact, she had no interest in it.

“We both [Emily and her sister Julie] came into it because my father needed our help,” she said.

Julie was the first to join her father in the business, just a few years after he bought the store in 1985. Eddie had noticed the success of other kosher butcher shops that offered prepared foods in addition to their meat counter. And Julie was already working in the catering business at the time.

“She created a monster,” said Emily with a laugh. “Everyone is crazy about the cooked food. The holidays are insanely busy. People are ordering dinners … she just knew her stuff.”

Julie was a research fanatic, going to other stores to catch a glimpse of what they were doing and always looking to improve what she bought. She brought in onion-crusted chicken after spotting it at another butcher, which grew in popularity to be the best-selling chicken at Roslyn Kosher Foods, and perfected the store’s fish and soup options.

Eddie had asked Julie to join the business temporarily to help with the addition of prepared foods.

“So he said, ‘Come and work with me for a while, and when we’re all set, then you can go back to looking for whatever [job] you want’ – and she never left,” said Emily.

Then it was Emily’s turn.  She had been working part-time here and there, employed at a card store for a short time, but was struggling to hold on to a job because of her debilitating migraines. She often had to call out sick from work when hit with a migraine, which would cost Emily her job.

“My father came to me and said when his cashier was leaving,  ‘I’m gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse,’” said Emily. “‘Instead of cashiering next door, come work for me, because you’ll make a career out of it, you’ll never have to worry about your migraines and losing a job again.’”

With Glady working the register from time to time at the store’s start and Emily’s husband, Vince, handling the bookkeeping in recent years, the store became a true family affair.

While many sisters might wince at the thought of spending every day with their sibling, for Emily and Julie it was a blessing.

The two were very close, in both age and bond. In fact, seeing each other every day at work wasn’t enough for the Jacobson sisters.

“We worked together. We lived together. We had an apartment together that we rented,” said Emily. “Then my father said, ‘Why don’t you think about buying something? You’re throwing your money away renting.’”

And they listened. Emily and Julie bought a house together, with Emily living on the slightly smaller upstairs floor and Julie taking the downstairs.

What might sound to many like a dreamy promise between two kid sisters didn’t end when Emily got married. Her husband, Vince, moved into the house with the sisters. Emily and Vince took the larger downstairs floor while Julie moved upstairs. It wasn’t until Emily became pregnant with her second child that she decided it was time to split up — although the sisters still lived in the same town.

But in June 2011, Julie died. She was 54 years old. The family was devastated.

“The hardest loss is a parent losing a child, which my father did,” said Emily. “But I think the second [most difficult] loss is a sibling, because you know one day your parents are gonna die before you. You just know, basically, that’s the way it goes. But you don’t think of your siblings that way. You think your siblings are gonna be around forever.”

The business struggled after Julie’s death. Eddie and Emily were left reeling, and the business wasn’t the same without Julie, who had poured so much of her expertise and hard work into the store.

While Emily had never had an inkling that she might run the store, that all changed when her father brought in a potential buyer to take a look at the store soon after the family’s loss.

Her first thought? How disappointed the loyal store employees would be if the store was sold.

“Oh, I’m totally a people pleaser,” said Emily.

Perhaps it was the streak of protectiveness she felt about the business, but in that moment, Emily knew that she wanted to continue running the business with her father. When Eddie died in December 2014, it was up to Emily to keep the store alive.

“I was petrified. I’m not a leader in any way, shape or form,” said Emily. “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”

But maybe Emily just doesn’t know herself as well as she thinks she does. For the next 10 years, she kept Roslyn Kosher Food’s doors open, thanking her husband, Vince, who she called her “rock” during that difficult transitional time.

Now, after nearly 40 years with the business, it is time for Emily to take a step back. Roslyn Kosher Foods will be closing its doors on March 15.

The stress of the business has become too much for Emily. Costs are rising and customers are waning. Plus, Emily said she never fully recovered from a frightening stay in the intensive care unit in 2020 due to COVID-19.

Emily is looking forward to a “quiet life,” in which she can spend more time with her sons, 25-year-old Adam and 23-year-old Michael, and hopefully take a vacation or two.

But despite all of the stress, Emily is grateful.

“The only thing that I can say is that my favorite thing is that I had the opportunity, now I’m gonna cry, that I had the opportunity to spend all that extra time with my father and my sister,” said Emily. “That’s what this store enabled me to do.”

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