Skip to content

Barry Rogg Of Rogg’s Delicatessen

April 16, 2021
by Alan Dein

Alan Dein fondly remembers Barry Rogg and his celebrated Whitechapel delicatessen

.

Barry Rogg by Shloimy Alman, 1977

.

As the years tick by and the places and the people I have loved pass on, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on a remarkable character whose shop was an East End institution for over fifty years.

Just south of Commercial Rd, Rogg’s delicatessen stood at the junction of Cannon Street Rd and Burslem St with its white-tiled doorway directly on the corner. One step transported you into a world of ‘heimishe’ or homely Jewish food that still had one foot in the past, a land of old-time street market sellers and their Eastern European roots.

Rogg’s was crammed from floor to ceiling with barrels, tins and containers of what Barry Rogg always called “the good stuff”. He was the proud proprietor who held court from behind the counter, surrounded on all sides by his handpicked and homemade wares. The shelves behind him were lined with pickles and a variety of cylindrical chub-packed kosher sausages dangled overhead.

Barry’s appearance was timeless, a chunky build with a round face that sometimes made him look younger or older than he was. He would tell you the story of Rogg’s if you wanted to know, but he was neither sentimental about the heyday of the ‘Jewish East End’ nor did he run a nostalgia-driven emporium. Rogg’s customers were varied and changed with the times. There was always the Jewish trade but, up to their closure, Rogg’s was also a popular a haunt for dockers who would traipse up from the nearby Thames yards. After that his customers were made up from the local Asian community, until there came another wave when he was being discovered by the national press increasingly focusing eastwards.

Barry’s grandfather started in the business at another shop on the same street in 1911. By 1944, when Barry was fourteen and still at school, he had already begun to help the family out at their new corner shop at 137 Cannon Street Rd. In 1946 he moved in for good, though he had only anticipated it would be a two-year stint as the building was earmarked for compulsory purchase for a road widening scheme that fortunately never happened.

I got to know Barry Rogg in 1987 when I joined a team of part-time workers at the Museum of the Jewish East End – now the Jewish Museum – who were collecting reminiscences and artefacts relating to East End social history. Then Rogg’s was one of the very last of its kind in East London. By the nineties it was Barry alone who was flying the flag for the Yiddisher corner deli scene that had proliferated in Whitechapel from the late nineteenth century. Thankfully, due to his popularity and the uniqueness in the last decade of the twentieth century, we have some wonderful photographs and articles to remember Barry by.

There are tantalising images of the food but we no can longer taste it. An array of industrial-sized plastic buckets filled with new green cucumbers, chillies, bay leaves and garlic at various stages of pickling, the spread of homemade schmaltz herrings, fried fish, gefilte fish, salt beef, chopped liver, the cheesecake. I am sure everyone reading this who visited Rogg’s will remember how their senses went into overdrive. The smells of the pickles, the herrings, the fruit and the smoked salmon, the visual bombardment of all the packaging and the handwritten labels. “Keep looking” was a favourite Barry catchphrase and how could you possibly not?

Of course, you could spend all day listening to the banter with his customers. I also fondly recall conversations with his partner Angela, who helped out but generally kept a low profile in the back of the shop. Rogg’s was Barry’s stage. He had a deep love for the theatre and for art, and one wonders what else he might have done if – like so many of his generation – he had not ended up in the family business as a fifteen-year-old out of school.

Barry died in 2006 at the age of seventy-six. Years ago, I co-compiled an album for JWM Recordings, Music is the Most Beautiful Language in the World: Yiddisher Jazz in London’s East End from the twenties to the fifties. As a follow-up, my co-compiler and regular companion on trips to Rogg’s, Howard Williams suggested releasing another disc, this time with a food theme and dedicated to Barry Rogg.

This disc dishes up two sides recorded in New York in the late thirties and forties. Slim Gaillard – whose hip scatological word play would be celebrated in On the Road – performs a paean to the humble yet filling Matzoh Balls, dumplings made of eggs and matzoh meal. Yiddish singer Mildred Rosner serves Gefilte Fish a galloping love affair with this slightly sweet but savoury ancient recipe which consists of patties made of a poached mixture of ground deboned white fish, boiled or fried. These two classic dishes have graced the Jewish luncheon or dinner table for generations and the recipes are included.

On the label is Irv Kline’s portrait of Barry from 1983. Irv was an American who had retired to live in London. Barry’s photograph formed part of Irv’s study of surviving Jewish businesses in the East End, a travelling exhibition which I helped to hang during the eighties. I recall Irv being a real jazz buff so I hope that he too would appreciate the music accompanying his portrait of Barry Rogg.

Click here for information about the ‘Gefilte Fish/Matzoh Balls’ recording

Irv Kline’s portrait of Barry Rogg, 1983

Alan Dein’s photograph of Rogg’s with one of Barry’s regular customers framed in the doorway, 1988

Shloimy Alman’s photograph of Rogg’s interior, 1977

You may also like to take a look at

East End Yiddisher Jazz

Shloimy Alman, Photographer

Alan Dein’s East End Shopfronts of 1988

14 Responses leave one →
  1. Naomi permalink
    April 16, 2021

    Oy vey! I wish I had known about this deli when I used to make my weekly pilgrimage on the no.8 bus to Brick Lane and surrounds. Our very own equivalent of those I visited in the Lower East Side.

  2. Geraldine Anslow permalink
    April 16, 2021

    Oh thank you! What a joy to see these picutres and learn more about Rogg’s. I lived across the street on Rampart Street in the nineties and Rogg’s was an essential part of any day off… coming home with a bagel with chive cream cheese wrapped in greaseproof paper, slices of cheesecake, matzoh and other delicacies. Barry seemed to be always beaming in his blue striped apron. He explained to me if I ate his real pickled cucumbers often enough, I would never get cancer. I remember at that era a very well fed silver tabby rubbing round my legs and stepping carefully between the wares. But the most precious memory is the fun of chatting with this warm and humourous man. May he rest in peace. Is there a record of the Irv Kline Jewish East End exhibition?

  3. Jonathon Green permalink
    April 16, 2021

    Great friends had long recommended Rogg’s but as a long-time loyalist of Marks of the Lane (corner of Wentworth/Toynbee streets) which had itself closed by then, I didn’t finally make a visit until about two weeks before it closed. I have regretted my foolish procrastination ever since.

  4. Adele Lester permalink
    April 16, 2021

    One of those memories instilled in my mind is of being a little girl, holding onto my mum’s hand, as she waited (impatiently) on line to buy a quarter pound smoked salmon (sliced thin) and a green English (pickled cucumber). The smell still lingers ….

  5. Charlie Gabriel permalink
    April 16, 2021

    I would go to Roggs on a Sunday on my way home from work.
    I would buy Bagels, new green cucumber, chopped liver and fish all the time,
    But my favorite was his smoked salmon balls, I would buy two dozen, and eat them on the way home, and they never lasted until Bow Common Lane.
    He told my he was closing down and the shop would be sold to developers,
    as he had no sons to carry on the business, only a daughter and she didn’t want to do it.
    so i asked him for the recipe for these, and he said no as it is a family secret,
    so i said but you are closing down, he looked at me and agreed,
    He told my the recipe and i wrote it down, i used it for ages, but then i lost it, i was gutted.
    so after that i would go through the telephone book and call all the Roggs,
    but inever found him, i did however speak to a lady, she lived opposite Harrords, she told me she used to send her driver to the shop on a Sunday to pick up her tea. and she told me his name was not Rogg, That was only the name of his shop.
    She also stated that she thinks he went back to his homeland.
    If anyone has a Salmon fish ball recipe please forward it to me, charlie.gabriel10+6@gmail.com
    I would love to make them as Mr Rogg did back in the day.

  6. Esther Wilkinson Rank permalink
    April 16, 2021

    Terrific story of a terrific man.

  7. paul loften permalink
    April 16, 2021

    I have never heard of this deli but what I know of this part of this part of the East End mostly came from my father and mother who were pre war Whitechapel. After the war they set up home in Stoke Newington. My father spoke of a deli or it could have been a fish and chip shop owned by Bud Flanagan’s mother near the London Hospital that sold the best haimshe cucumbers from a barrel . He would go there when visiting his own mum who lived in Raven row behind the hospital whilst on leave from the army. Bud was sometimes there and would come out from the back room when he saw him enter and cry out “Its Joshy !” and they would have a good old natter.

  8. Lizebeth permalink
    April 16, 2021

    Although not Jewish myself, I grew up in New York City at a time when shops like these thronged the Lower East Side, and I have so many fond memories of visiting them with my dad as a tiny child. Always given a free kosher pickle to eat as we browsed! The delicious foods available then are now sold virtually exclusively in high-priced shops, where we could never have afforded them in my youth. I don’t miss the possibly unsanitary crates and barrels (although no one we knew ever got sick), but the marvellous ambiance, and the pride of proprietorship, seem to be aromas gone forever.

  9. David permalink
    April 17, 2021

    Loved going into Roggs on a Thursday when I was out buying with my Father in Law Mark Braham. Always a treat to talk to Barry. He lived in the Water Gardens on the Edgware Road opposite the Victoria Sporting Club Casino.

  10. April 17, 2021

    I used to live nearby in Turner street so would go there on the occasion as I used to spend too much so much choice and delicious food the cod in Matza Meal was the best you cannot get anything like it or make it either. He would always encourage you to taste and spend lovely way of shopping still miss it.

  11. Greg permalink
    April 17, 2021

    I had the pleasure to know Barry and work with him when his shop was finally compulsory acquired. A kind gentleman, his outward appearance concealed the real person. He left a lasting memory with me.

  12. Ruth Sivilya permalink
    April 18, 2021

    I visited the U.K. and went with my father to Barry Rogg’s a few moths before he closed. Dad bought a selection of goodies and because I was hungry and Barry was frying goujons I was given a portion. I have never tasted such delicious fried fish in my life!

  13. Cherub permalink
    April 21, 2021

    Reading this made me feel ravenous ☺️

  14. Kate Fine permalink
    May 8, 2021

    It was so lovely to read about the legend that was Barry Rogg. I remember going to the shop with my father almost every week his banter fascinated me,his food and presence is sadly missed end of an era.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS