A hub of home comfort arrived in the Big Apple when Peter Myers opened an English deli in the city in 1985.
Among his customers at Myers of Keswick were Rolling Stones star Keith Richards and award-winning actress Glenn Close, while A-listers Johnny Depp and Kate Moss even popped in for a cup of tea on one occasion.
Peter arrived in New York in January, 1972, when he left Keswick’s quiet off-season for a two-week holiday and ended up staying for more than 40 years.
It was pure luck, he says, that saw him land a job in Manhattan bar, The Bells of Hell.
The bar was run by Malachy McCourt — the brother of Frank McCourt, who wrote the book Angela’s Ashes — and Peter says he quickly became good friends with Malachy, eventually taking over as landlord of the bar.
Peter was inspired to open his English deli when chatting with fellow ex-pats at The Bells of Hell. He said: “Us Brits would get together and bellyache over the state of the bacon, tea and sausages, things like that.
It was then that I got the idea for a shop which sold all English produce.
“There were 100,000 Brits living in the city of New York at the time. That number of people could definitely support a shop.”
But it was a visit from Peter’s father which ignited the idea of making a success of selling British staples in New York.
Tom Myers visited his son for eight weeks in the early 80s. Peter said: “I remember thinking ‘Oh my God, dad’s going to be bored stupid’, and sure enough he was.
He started making mini-sausage rolls and Cornish pasties to pass the time, and then he would give them away at The Bells of Hell’s cocktail hour.
“I’ll never forget looking down the bar one evening after he’d dished out the pastries and there’s people just stuffing their faces with them. That’s what planted the seed.”
Peter’s passion for quality British food came from his family upbringing, he says. He was born above his father’s butcher’s shop in Station Street in 1944 and began working there at 16, straight after leaving school.
His dad taught him the family’s secret Cumberland sausage recipe and how to make pork pies from scratch.
“All my relatives were good cooks growing up,” said Peter. “I just thought it was normal that my grandmother could cook a roast brisket as good as a roast sirloin. It wasn’t until I got to America that I realised there are so many lousy cooks!”
Born and brought up in Keswick, Peter has now returned to his home town for retirement, leaving the deli in the capable hands of his daughter, Jenny Pulidore.
Peter says Jenny has mastered the Myers’ recipes and is now expanding the store with online deliveries of all their classic British products.
“I was always looking forward to coming home for retirement. I could never get Keswick out of my blood,” he said.
“When I lived in the US, I would come back here every four to five months to visit friends and go hiking. My visits to Keswick were my therapy.”
Peter has brought back plenty of stories about his days behind the deli counter.
“I declared my own independence on 4th July — the day I opened the shop,” he said. “On the first day we only sold one pork pie. The next day we sold two.”
His wife Irene was concerned they had made a big mistake by opening an “obscure British shop” in the US.
“She asked ‘are you nuts? The only pies Americans know about are mum’s apple’. But I said we’d had a 100 per cent increase of sales in 24 hours. Big companies like McDonald’s would do anything for figures like that!” said Peter.
He was right to trust his instincts, as British ex-pats quickly flocked to Myers of Keswick in search of a taste of home.
“The first thing Brits suffer from when they get to the US is baked bean withdrawal symptoms. I got pallet loads shipped in from England,” he said.
The store also hit the spot for Peter’s famous friend, the country and western singer and author Kinky Friedman, who he has known for a long time. When he shut the door on Myers of Keswick after a long day’s work, Friedman became the life and soul of the party.
“Kinky is a real Texas character. He used to tour with Bob Dylan. We first met in The Bells of Hell bar and then he would come to Myers of Keswick a lot. We used to throw parties for a few privileged customers after closing.”
Peter and Myers of Keswick also appear in a series of detective books written by Friedman.
More recently, superstar actor Johnny Depp and model Kate Moss called on Peter at his store.
“When they came in, I remembered that I kept fine bone china for special guests, so I gave them a cup of tea. They were delightful. We just exchanged pleasantries and they had a wander around the shop. Kate Moss seems very nice,” said Peter.
Myers of Keswick also supplies Cumberland sausages to the Plaza Hotel in New York and delivers all around the US, with the classic Cumbrian bangers being especially popular in California and Florida.
His secret recipe is not only available in New York — Peter has passed it on to The Kingfisher fish and chip restaurant in Keswick.