Most people wouldn’t think twice about the idea of a family-owned Italian foodstuffs importer in the Bronx’s “Little Italy” sustaining a devout following for over a century, but the mosaic Star of David at the foot of this store’s front door has a story to tell. Teitel Brothers is an Italian grocer founded by Austrian-Jewish immigrants that’s become a key part of New York City’s beating Italian heart.
The original Teitel brothers, Jacob and Morris, arrived on Ellis Island in 1912 to a New York in transition. Italians were flooding the newly sectioned Belmont neighborhood of the Bronx, where the brothers found comfort in the handful of Jewish families in the area. Still, they learned Italian before they learned English.
Abandoning their lives as tailors in Europe, the brothers sensed the needs of the neighborhood and opened an Italian grocer in 1915, moving their families into the apartment upstairs. Catering to the Italian-American schedule quickly separated them from their Orthodox Jewish roots: Long lines for their affordable goods imported straight from Italy often kept the Teitels working until 1:00 a.m. on the Sabbath. When lines grew overwhelming, Jacob would bang on a steam pipe for his wife to come down and help.
As fascism stretched across Europe with the onset of World War II, the family’s religion came into the spotlight. Their landlord insisted if people knew they were Jewish, they’d lose customers. Jacob laid a Star of David in mosaic tiles at the foot of the store’s entrance to prove him wrong. A century later, with the business a cornerstone of the Belmont neighborhood, he’s still wrong.
Today, folks in need of authentic Italian cuts of cured meat, chunks of fragrant cheese, bags of pasta, or any number of niche Italian beans, oils, vinegars, and spices come from all over the tri-state area to Teitel Brothers for their offerings that literally spill out onto the sidewalk. The store has become such a fixture that the city renamed a section of 186th street “Teitel Brothers Street.” The new brother-owners, Jacob and Morris’s grandchildren, still speak Italian. And they’re closed for all Jewish holidays.
Know Before You Go
The store is closed on Sundays and Jewish holidays.