After 28 years of serving overstuffed pastrami sandwiches, lokshen kugel and hot brisket dinners, Full Belly Deli, Portland’s only Jewish delicatessen, has closed its doors.

Owner David Rosen said the Brighton Avenue deli was a victim of the economy, rising food prices, and competition from the chain restaurants that have proliferated nearby as that part of the city, on the border of Westbrook, has developed in recent years.

Rosen said his rent had gone up almost $1,000 a month. In December, he applied for a liquor license thinking that adding beer and wine could help him compete, but he never followed through because he had to close the doors. He hasn’t served a sandwich in two weeks.

“We just couldn’t do it anymore,” Rosen said. “We put all our savings into the deli and realized there’s nothing left in the bank.”

Rosen opened the deli (which was not kosher) with his mother in 1987. For years, his father, Jack Rosen, was also a fixture, until he died in 2010.

Rabbi Carolyn Braun of Temple Beth El called the Rosen family “some of the most generous and wonderful people in the state.”

“They were generous to the Jewish community, as well as to the many other communities that they touched,” Braun wrote in an email. “I’ve had congregants call me to say, ‘Tell me this isn’t true’ because Full Belly Deli’s closing leaves a big hole in their lives. It was a place to ‘fress’ (Yiddish for eat a lot) and to ‘schmooze’ or ‘kibitz’ (gab), not only for the Jewish community but for their many fans.”

South Portland resident Jen Goldman, 49, was one of those fans, calling it a Portland institution, a part of Portland’s Jewish history, and “the only place you can go out in Portland and have a truly authentic Reuben and bowl of chicken soup.” The sandwiches, she said, were big enough to feed two.

(A 2012 review in the Portland Press Herald’s Go magazine began, “I can think of no restaurant more aptly named in Greater Portland than the Full Belly Deli. Because, man alive, am I ever stuffed.”)

As a small child, Goldman used to eat with her grandmother at George’s Deli in Monument Square, the precursor to the Full Belly Deli. “And then when that closed, there was nothing in Portland, so it was exciting when Full Belly Deli opened,” she said.

After serving Portland for more than 40 years, George Bress closed his delicatessen to fight a battle with cancer, but gladly served as an advisor to the Rosens when they got into the business.

So will a new deli now take Full Belly Deli’s place?

“I think a kosher deli in downtown Portland would do really well,” said Ani Helmick, executive director of the Maine Jewish Museum on Congress Street. “People come in here to the museum all the time and ask ‘Is there a kosher deli?’”

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

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