Next Wednesday, June 19 — a year and a half after it closed for renovations — Stephen's Deli in Hialeah will reopen in the exact same location with the exact same vibe.
The deli reopens with one major change: Henderson "Junior" Biggers, the chef who's worked at the deli for more than 60 years, has been given a place of honor at the front of the restaurant, where guests can marvel as he carves pastrami, turkey, and corned beef and piles it high onto fresh, chewy rye bread.
When Stephen's was founded in 1954, Hialeah was predominantly a Jewish neighborhood surrounded by Miami's garment center. During its heyday, Stephen's was one of four delis on the same block in Hialeah, and Biggers was slicing meat at an eatery that did a robust lunch service. "One by one, they all died. Stephen's is the last one standing, and Junior made Stephen's what it is," Kuscher says. "Without Junior, I wouldn't be as sentimental as I was and am."
After purchasing the restaurant, he thought it would be an easy turnaround. He soon learned that the 60-year-old building needed a complete overhaul. Besides heading the initial project of revamping the kitchen and refreshing the dining room, he found himself having to oversee a snout-to-tail renovation, including repaving the parking lot and bringing the electric up to code.
Kuscher says the finished product was worth it, although most customers might not even notice all the work that went into it. "It took two years to make it look exactly the same as it did before," he says. The restaurant has retained its old-school deli-meets-diner vibe, but with some changes.
At the upgraded 3,000-square-foot eatery, Kuscher pays homage to his childhood memories and Jewish roots through family photos on the walls and a menu designed to duplicate his grandfather’s deli in Plantation, which burned down years ago. Stephen's will feature its original chairs, tables, and signage framing the entrance. And, of course, guests can now watch Biggers slice deli meat at Junior's Station, a prominent space front and center. "That's the show," Kuscher says.
Also, the kitchen's footprint was reduced to add La Cocina, a 40-seat bar that will debut this summer.
“In this process, I love that I’ve discovered Hialeah, and I really think both the city's and South Florida residents will be proud of the authenticity we made of the space here,” Kuscher says.
The menu — including egg salad sandwiches ($10.95), NYC pushcart hot dogs served tableside, and the Lokal burger ($13.95) — will be an expansion of the offerings at the Stephen's Deli stall at Time Out Market on Lincoln Road.
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The shining stars of the menu, however, are the hand-cut pastrami and corned beef sandwiches, served on rye or challah and garnished with a Ba-Tampte pickle ($14). Wash down your sandwich with a classic New York egg cream ($5). It's a tall glass filled with milk and chocolate or vanilla syrup and topped with soda water ($5). Although the restaurant won't serve cocktails at this time, Stephen's will offer an option to make your egg cream boozy (and will also serve a proper Irish Coffee for dessert).
Biggers, who has been part of Stephen's since it first opened, will finally get the kudos he deserves, Kuscher says. The City of Hialeah plans to honor the 83-year-old with a proclamation.
“Junior is the heart and soul of this operation,” Kuscher says. “He’s the one who’s kept this alive and has been with the operation since 1957 when he was only 20 years old. If it wasn’t for him hand-slicing meat for more than 60 years, all of this would probably be long gone. He’s responsible for keeping up one of the most historic places in Miami.”
Stephen's Deli. 1000 E. 16th St., Hialeah; 305-887-8863; kushhospitality.com. When it opens June 19, hours will be 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. When La Cocina opens, Stephen's will offer its menu later.