Family History Research Leads to Priceless Find

Discovering Altman’s Deli by Mitch Altman

There was always a family story about Altman's at College and Brunswick. Famous customers legend says:­­ ­­the Three Stooges, Myrna Loy, inexpensive meals, and a friendship with Sam Shopsowitz. My great grandfather Herman Altman owned it. It was later briefly run by my grandfather George Altman before he sold it. His brother-in-law was Hans Fread of Sign of the Steer fame; “Hans Fread's Folly,” as I learned recently. He and my grandfather bought the building at Dupont and Dufferin that is now South Hill Home Interiors, where they moved the wildly successful Sign of the Steer. They couldn't keep up and it closed quickly after opening.

Bellevue Theatre

I have often searched both the Ontario Jewish Archives and the City of Toronto Archives for “Altman's Deli,” as I always knew it. I found scant references but definitely a few mentions. My mother sent me an article about long-gone Toronto restaurants, and there was a mention of Sign of the Steer. Well, that got me started on my search again and I spent the entire weekend exploring archival records. As, I was looking at architectural records of College Street I found a series on old theatres in the city. The Bellevue on College was a very crisp image. When I noted the address, I looked closely at the storefront next door—the image I had found was very blurry—but the sign clearly showed Altman's. What a lucky coincidence, as there was no individual cataloguing of the businesses that appeared on either side of the theatre, so the name wasn't noted.

Caption: Bellevue Theatre (Toronto), [1937?]. Ontario Jewish Archives, Harold S. Kaplan fonds 27, series 1, file 8.

I cannot tell you how joyful I felt all weekend—and even still today—to finally see a picture of it. Such a wonderful, truly priceless find. I felt like a detective who had finally cracked a decades-long case.

Caption: Mitch Altman’s grandfather, George Altman (right) with Ed Sullivan. George Altman was the Chief Barker (Chair of the Board) of the Variety Club that year. "We always used to do the Bike-a-Thon".   Courtesy of Mitch Altman.


"One of my most cherished possessions is one of the two remaining Altman's knives that have somehow survived". Courtesy of Mitch Altman.


I was born in Cincinnati but grew up in Thornhill while it was still farmland. Spent some years in Tokyo, New York, and Los Angeles before finally returning in 2004. I work with my wife, Interior Designer Shirley Meisels. Lousy golfer, decent husband, and good dad. I love to cook, BBQ, golf and play guitar.