Williamsburg's 'King of Sandwiches' Mourned on Deli Shrine
WILLIAMSBURG — Stocking the shelves of the T&A Deli, a homey grocery on Bushwick Avenue, Omar Alijoberi could only think of his father — known as the "King of Sandwiches" — who died in a fall behind his apartment two weeks ago.
Alex Alijoberi, 49, a Yemeni immigrant who became locally renowned for his deftly-created sandwiches and his jovial "good mornings" doled out to everyone he met in the two decades since he opened the corner store. Hundreds of notes commemorating his life have been written on two posters hanging from the outside of the store since the Feb. 8 accident.
Now his son, who learned from his dad the art of layering turkey, mayonnaise, and other condiments in the perfect proportions between bread, is trying to continue the legacy.
"Customers say that I'm going to take his spot," said the young Alijoberi, 20, who feels called on to provide for his mother and two younger brothers now that his dad is gone. "He makes people happy, jokes with them, makes them good sandwiches," said Alijoberi, still using the present tense about his late father.
Alijoberi was with a cable guy at his apartment on Grand Street Feb. 8 when he fell and hit his head, relatives said. He was taken to Bellevue Hospital and declared dead. The city's Medical Examiner declared the death an accident and said the cause of death was impact to the head.
Chniell Jones, 18, who visited T&A Deli Wednesday afternoon as she has every day the past five years before heading to high school — and now college.
"He always said good morning, he was open to everybody," Jones said. "When you were mad he'd always make a joke to make you feel better."
Jones started out ordering three eggs on a roll with salt, pepper, and ketchup before her 6:15 a.m. subway commute, then moved toward ordering a cream cheese bagel with kosher bacon.
On Feb. 8, she was running late, so she just grabbed a juice from the store.
"I came in later that day to order a sandwich," Jones recalled, "and they were like, 'Alex died. I couldn't believe it."
Iris Torres said she missed Alijoberi's meals and emotional support, which she said helped her relieve stress during her lunch break from her taxing work at the Interborough Mental Health Center across the street.
"By the time I left here I wouldn't be stressed," Torres, 28, said, adding that he would joke with her while preparing her chicken sandwich or calming the long line of hurried customers. "He was an entertainer."
The clients' shrine outside, a cluster of flowers and candles and a few densely scribbled posters with poetic homages, included lines like "good morning will never be the same" and "you always knew what I wanted b4 I asked."
T&A's manager Ali Mohammad said no one can take Alijoberi's place at the counter except for his own relatives.
"When his sons grow up," said Mohammad of the two younger boys who are still children, "I'll hire them."