By Michael Recchiuti
JANUARY 8, 2021 NEW YORK
Eddie Teitel loves Broadway shows. Since the pandemic shut the theaters he has missed his trips downtown, leaving the shop in the Bronx early, throwing on a jacket and tie, driving into town for dinner and a show. He loves the magic that is the theater. He got a call in December from an officer of the American Federation of Musicians Local 802 describing the desperate financial condition in which so many of the musicians found themselves with the theaters suddenly closed nine months earlier, and their livelihoods literally entirely eliminated in one day.
The union was organizing an Emergency Task Force to provide as many of the most distressed members of the local as possible with a Christmas dinner. Would he be able to help with this initiative? Of course he could; he welcomed the opportunity. Teitel Brothers, the venerable grocer in the Belmont section of the Bronx has been in business since 1915. Eddie is the third generation to work behind the counter in Bronx’s Little Italy. He understands continuity, the ebb and flow of history. Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down. Certainly, his family, immigrant Jews a century earlier, had clocked plenty of time in both conditions, and every degree in between. He is, as they say, a “people person”. To work in a family food business you become one, even if you weren’t when you started (which is sometime early in childhood- I know from personal experience). You have relationships with your colleagues, your suppliers, and most importantly, your customers. You know their names. You know their families. You know what they like to eat. You learn about people. You learn to have empathy.
Thinking about the hundreds of musicians with their livelihoods stripped from them, Eddie stepped up. He could send down 600 hams for the holiday food drive. The union officer jumped at the offer. Eddie had one of their company trucks loaded up, and sent a couple of his men to deliver the hams to the staging area where the food bags were being assembled. He laughed as he told me that when his guys showed up, they saw the union men in navy jackets with “ETF” (Emergency Task Force) emblazoned on the backs. They thought they were immigration agents, and wouldn’t get out of the truck!
They cleared that up, and unloaded a ton of premium hams to make their way to the tables in the homes of the distressed musicians and their families, who could think, on this one day, somebody understood, felt their pain, and was willing and able to reach out to them a helping hand.