Lox Stock & Bagel didn’t spring into life 45 years ago fully formed. It originated in the early 1970s as Mickey Lieb’s wholesale meat distributorship, in the same location on
Lox Stock & Bagel didn’t spring into life 45 years ago fully formed. It originated in the early 1970s as Mickey Lieb’s wholesale meat distributorship, in the same location on Battleground Avenue where it stands today. John Meyler, who’d come from the New York City suburbs to attend Guilford College in 1969, met Lieb while working at The Pen and Pencil Restaurant. They came up with the name “Lox Stock & Bagel” together, then Meyler bought out Lieb in 1977. Meyler is the mustachioed, curly-haired, aproned guy with glasses (looking not unlike Tony Orlando of Tony Orlando and Dawn, which was also big in the ’70s) depicted on LS&B’s early menus, which still hang on a wall inside the restaurant.
“Initially, we were purely take-out, a package store like you’d see up North,” Meyler says. “We were the only place in town that sliced corned beef and pastrami to take home by the pound.”
Pickles still came in barrels, and pretty soon, a few upturned pickle barrels became restaurant tables. Still, Meyler had plenty to learn. One of the first sandwiches on the menu was the Kosher Sub, with salami, pastrami, bologna, and Swiss cheese. Greensboro’s Jewish community was quick to object to the name, as combining meat and dairy is against kosher guidelines. Meyler wound up writing a letter of apology to a local rabbi, as well as changing the sandwich’s name to the International Sub. Greensboro residents had a lot to learn, too; Meyler constantly fielded questions: What are bagels? What are lox? “Is lox,” he’d correct. “It kind of scared them.”
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Those first creations — the Italian Sub, Turkey Club, Super Turk, Cheese Sub — are still on LS&B’s menu alongside a slew of other sandwiches, like the Hoboken (hot roast beef, cherry peppers, and melted provolone on a sub roll) and the Knickerbocker (beef knockwurst, sauerkraut, melted Swiss, and mustard on rye), plus salads, burgers, and crispy knishes. You’ll find Reubens and Rachels here, of course. What you won’t find are French fries. “Deep-fat fryers hadn’t been invented when New York and New Jersey delicatessens were opened by immigrants longing for familiar food. [Not having] French fries is part of what keeps LS&B authentic,” says Patrick Kelley, who worked at and eventually bought the restaurant in 2017, when Meyler retired after 40 years.
Kelley worked at Horwitz’s Delicatessen in Cary as a teenager and became so interested in delis that he wrote a college research paper on the topic. Authenticity is important to him, so he expanded LS&B’s offerings to include more bagels (made with New York water and imported from the Empire State) and cream cheese varieties. Yet true authenticity is evident in the restaurant’s decor — un-updated, if you will, since the early days of neon beer signs, potted pothos plants, and Chianti bottles wrapped in straw. Have a seat at red Formica tables, wooden booths, or the big banquette in the back.
Knockwurst, Genoa salami, baked beans, macaroni and pasta salads, and pickled herring in cream or wine sauce are among the offerings in the cold case, where no leafy garnishes prettify the stainless steel tubs. “I don’t have time for that,” Kelley says. He’s too busy greeting four generations of customers and doling out chicken salad (the best-selling takeout) and Arlingtons (the best-selling sandwich, made of smoked turkey breast, Havarti cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayo served hot on an onion roll). “I would argue,” he goes on, “and I say this with humility, that we’re the busiest non-fast-food restaurant in town.”
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Just as Meyler did from the get-go, Kelley arranges special orders from New York for the Jewish high holidays, like whole smoked whitefish and sable. Near the tub of tuna salad is an open box of Joyva treats, the raspberry jelly-and-chocolate candy beloved by the Jewish community. Don’t look for fountain drinks — “They’re not authentic to delicatessens,” Kelley says — but beside the varieties of root beer and Dr. Brown’s sodas are LS&B’s concessions to its Southern locale: bottles of grape Nehi and RC Cola.
At the entrance, empty five-gallon plastic pickle buckets are still for sale for a couple of dollars, as they always have been. As it always has been, too, your choice of sandwich sides is potato chips or — incongruous but iconic — carrot sticks, which, like the dill spears, are cut by hand every day. “People like coming in here and knowing that not a lot has changed,” Kelley says. “One 94-year-old still picks up lunch for her 95-year-old husband.” Even though he’s retired, Meyler, now 69, says, “When I run into people around town, they recite the menu to me.”
Here’s how an eatery becomes an institution: A name that doesn’t change. A location that doesn’t change. A menu that doesn’t change. Decor that doesn’t change, that merely transitions into memorabilia. Generations of returning customers. Delicious, authentic food. Meaning that if you think a Devil Dog is just some kind of Hostess product or State Fair fare, think again. Here, it’s a kosher hot dog with melted American cheese and spicy mustard, slathered with New Jersey-style hot relish. Goes down great with a grape Nehi.
Not far from Lox Stock & Bagel, near the campus of UNC Greensboro, the atmosphere inside First Carolina Delicatessen is deeply familiar: same cozy wooden booths, same red-topped tables, same hanging, trailing pothos plants. And the menu is almost identical, other than a few variations — like the Ridgewood, a black bean burger served on an onion roll, and the Nutley, First Carolina’s turkey-pastrami spin on LS&B’s turkey Reuben. The latter, John Meyler says, grew out of then-employee Dean Vial’s interest in serving turkey pastrami when they opened First Carolina together in the mid-1980s. (Vial bought the restaurant from Meyler six years ago.) Many customers don’t realize that the two delis share an origin story: Meyler has had people come to him after visiting First Carolina and say, “They’re using your menu!” Fortunately, there are enough Hobokens, Hackensacks, and Harrisons — all available at both locations — to go around. — Katie Saintsing