Borscht Belt Bistro is the story of Lena Ginsberg, whom we first meet as an attractive young woman of seventeen. She is a Russian Jewish immigrant who has settled with her family on the lower east side of New York in the late 1920s. She helps her family by singing from her Papa’s clothing cart.
Lena has absorbed early jazz and blues from a neighbor’s radio. Singing on the cart reveals a great talent to go along with her beauty. She sells her father’s wares by singing her own creation, "Alta Zachen."
Lena is seductive, feisty, has lots of chutzpa, and is a bit reckless. Fame and fortune are not important to her, first and foremost is her family. Her dream is to sing in their little Brooklyn restaurant and marry her boyfriend Benny. However, things change drastically when the Jewish mob discovers her. Fights ensue for control of her family’s business, which includes Lena. They takeover the restaurant and transform the basement into an illegal speakeasy. Using the restaurant as cover, they force her to sing in the speakeasy where a fight occurs between the mob and the family.
Lena’s Uncle Ruby creates the Borscht Belt Bistro in the Catskills in an effort to provide an escape where he can hide the family away from the gangsters. While comedic, there are potentially dramatic consequences.
The mob threatens the family, but Mama ultimately saves the day with her incomparable Chicken Soup, of which Tubman, the mob boss, is a die-hard fan. He is also somewhat smitten with Mama, and she returns the attention in a flirtatious manner.
The story unfolds as a flashback where Lena, now a grandmother, is telling her story to her young granddaughter, Molly. She adores her grandmother and has aspirations of becoming an entertainer with her grandmother as her mentor. She imitates her singing and style whenever they’re together. They form a beautiful bond where she not only learns her family’s story, but is transfixed as it unfolds on stage through dialogue, song and dance. Molly and Lena have songs and dances of their own that show the special bond between them.
With her picture album in hand, Molly’s questions spark the action on center stage as Lena takes Molly through her trials and wonderful memories, which carry us through to the 1960’s, and the opening night of the recently reopened Borscht Belt Bistro.