Ed Finman oral history interview 1, 2018 January 25
Ed Finman, the son of Leo Finman who owned locally renowned Leo's Delicatessen located on Elizabeth Avenue in Charlotte North Carolina between 1950 and 1968, discusses his family history and the history of the business in this first of two interviews. Mr. Finman describes how his ancestors immigrated to the United States from Lithuania to escape genocide around the turn of the Twentieth Century and how they settled initially in Hartford Connecticut before moving South in search of work. He relates how his grandparents moved to Ybor City, Florida, where they opened Finman's Kosher Deli, and how his father eventually relocated to Charlotte to open his own delicatessen at the behest of a family member already living in Charlotte. Leo's Deli originally opened in 1948 at Morehead Street and Kings Drive next door to the Central Theater, but the location was inadequate and the business moved to Elizabeth Avenue within two years. Mr. Finman describes in detail the layout of the deli, including the arrangement of different foods and beverages throughout the shop, the seating, the cooking facilities, and the general lively ambiance. He also discusses the supply of foods, some of which were shipped in from New York City and Cincinnati. He recalls that the customers represented a cross section of Charlotte society, including medical staff and nuns from the nearby Mercy and Presbyterian hospitals, leading local business people such as Hugh McColl, and neighbors such as Charlotte Mayor Ben Douglas Sr. and civil rights activist Harry Golden. In addition, some customers travelled from as far away as the Appalachian Mountains to stock up on particular foods. In contrast to his grandfather's deli in Ybor City, Leo's Deli attracted mostly non-Jewish people. However, reflecting social conditions of the time, Leo's Deli was not racially integrated. Mr. Finman also recalls George Phiffer, an African American employee who was Leo's right hand man in the deli as well as being a close companion to Mr. Finman himself, and whose family farmed land in the UNC Charlotte area. Other topics include Mr. Finman's mother's family background, Leo Finman's over generosity, subsequent owners of the business, other local business suppliers, and Leo Finman's ill health that resulted from his work.