Sunset Park is mourning the loss of the beloved owner of a famous local deli.
Kevin Lee, owner of Sunset Park Deli, 4301 Fourth Ave., has died. The news was announced via social media on Monday, May 5.
Lee leaves behind his wife, Anne, three children and several grandchildren.
The deli is loved by locals and Brooklynites. It is famous for its high-quality sandwiches and hot food. However, what made the establishment special was Lee, according to locals.
“I worked there from when I was 13 until about 19 years old,” said Luis Morales. “These people looked after me those years and encouraged me to go to school because I was involved in gang activity in the city. Anne had cops keeping tabs on me and I didn’t know it at the time. Kevin was a good man. They always fed the homeless coming by and they treated our family very well.”
There are several stories from locals about Lee. Not only did he provide high-quality meals, but he also cared deeply for the Sunset Park community.
“I have wonderful memories of his kindness from childhood to just recently, when he catered the funeral for my mother-in-law,” said Jose Perez. “An amazing human being.”
According to family friend Joe Calabrese, Kevin had been in business for about 36 years and he and his wife Annie used to run the store.
“Every day, he had a line out the door full of firemen, policemen, sanitation workers and neighborhood people,” he said. “The man was open seven days a week and was there every day for the most part of close to 40 years. Whenever we had a block party, he would donate food and soda to the block.”
Calabrese added that Lee helped him through tragic times.
“Even when my father-in-law passed away two years ago, he gave my family a six-foot hero to feed our guests at the funeral home,” he said. “He was just a really, really nice guy. Not only did he make great sandwiches, but he was such a generous person. I will always remember how good he was to my three sons and my family. He will be missed dearly. May he rest in peace.”
“They’ve just been an institution in the neighborhood,” added Ginnie Murphy, who said Lee was in his late 70s. “They were more than just store owners. They were neighbors and friends. He knew everyone here. When we christened our son, he sent food over for the party. He did things like that all the time. During block parties, he would send up water and sodas without having to be asked. He knew everyone.”
She added, “I was talking to him a couple of weeks ago about my son who was about to have a baby. He’s known my son since he was an infant. They’ve just been an institution in the neighborhood. They were more than just store owners. They were neighbors and friends.”
Lee helped the eatery continue a tradition of excellence.
“Without a doubt, the best sandwiches/sandwich maker in our Sunset Park area for as long as I can remember,” said Ramona De Jean-Maynard. “I’ve lived in Sunset Park since 1982. If you were there for a sandwich or something to eat on your lunch break, there were often many double parked cars out in front of the deli and along that block on Fourth Avenue. I believe people came from other neighborhoods on their lunch breaks as well.”
Local Maria Lemosramos also has fond memories of Lee and his giving nature.
“They sent me a baby shower gift in 1988 when i was pregnant with my first child and working at CFL,” she said. “I am very proud of having known them. He charged less for the children’s sandwiches even though they were as big as any other sandwich. They were such a lovely couple.”
“My dad lived in this store when I was a kid,” added Kelly Eileen. “I went to Head Start in the ‘80s and my dad worked there.”
“The first memory I have of the deli was when I was 6 years old,” said Cynthia Amy Rosario. “My mom worked down the block and she knew I loved sandwiches. We walked in and Kevin was making the sandwiches. He asked me what kind I wanted but he thought the sandwich was going to be too big for me. I laughed and he gave me my ham and cheese on a roll. Then his wife Annie spoke to my mom about how this sandwich was too big for me.”
She added, “They took a picture with me for my middle school graduation when I went in. They always asked how I was. After moving out of Sunset and New York, when I returned, I brought my daughter to my favorite deli. It was different as they started selling hot food and had a cold salad bar. And Annie was not at the register. I was ready to walk out when Mr. Kevin noticed me and called out, ‘How are you Little Cindy? Been a long time.’ I smiled and ordered our sandwiches. My daughter loved it. Whenever we came back to New York, we had to stop there. So it was two years when I last returned to New York because my mom passed away. I went to the deli before my flight home. Kevin came out of the back and asked about my mom. I couldn’t believe he remembered her. He told me she was a great lady. I said thank you and left the store. This store was a staple for us.”
Longtime Sunset Park resident Edwin Ruiz recalled the history of Kevin and the beloved deli.
“When I was around seven years old, it was Tony’s Deli,” he said. “Two brothers owned it. Then Kevin took over I would say in the early 1970s. Since then, him and his wife Anne have been the best people on the block. Every time we had something to do with the block, whether it was a block party or function, he would offer food, services or anything free of charge. His generosity is beyond what anyone could imagine.”
He added that on their way to school, Lee would give them free food.
“Most of us would get a free coffee and a bagel and we’d do something for him in return like help with the garbage at night and help with the store,” Ruiz said. “My mother used to live on the floor right above the deli. He was very generous. He didn’t charge my mother a lot of money for rent. They took care of us when my mother was working at I.S. 136 Charles O. Dewey. If my mom didn’t have the money at the time, he would take care of her.”
Local elected officials also chimed in about Lee.
“We have again lost another good community friend, Kevin Lee,” said Assemblymember Felix Ortiz. “He was a kind man liked by so many people, always extending a friendly hand to those in need. Kevin will be missed. Our prayers and condolences go to his family.”
“This one hurts as more deaths are hitting closer to home,” added Councilmember Carlos Menchaca. “Kevin was a beloved neighbor and Sunset Deli is an NYC institution. Unfortunately, he’s not the last neighbor we’ll be grieving. But we can do something with that grief. We must use it to protect our working class businesses and neighbors. A fight I will continue.”