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Eat and Drink

7 things 'Deli Man' taught us about a fading NYC institution

Nothing is more New York than the deli, and this indispensable but fading institution gets the warmhearted tribute it deserves in the documentary "Deli Man," playing in theaters at the Landmark Sunshine on Houston Street and at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

“The deli business is a tough, dirty business with long, grinding hours,” in which proprietors face “precipitous economic odds,” says “Deli Man” director Erik Greenberg Anjou.

Yet places like Ben’s Best in Queens, the Second Avenue Deli, the Carnegie Deli and others hang on.

These are some interesting facts about this NYC institution that we learned from the movie.

Matzah is as authentic as it gets

The only true “Jewish” foods are cholent and
Photo Credit: Flickr/Avital Pinnick

The only true “Jewish” foods are cholent and matzah. Any other deli staple evolved out of European traditions that were adopted and molded by immigrant Jewish populations.

Fame has some tasty perks

Jerry Stiller and Zero Mostel used to take
Photo Credit: Getty Bryan Bedder

Jerry Stiller and Zero Mostel used to take trips to Katz’s Deli when they were acting on the Second Avenue Yiddish theater circuit. Mostel, Stiller says in the film, was so popular he got far more meat on his sandwich than anyone else.

Keeping kosher isn't always key

Stage Deli was an innovator, broadening the deli’s
Photo Credit: Flickr/Hugh Grew

Stage Deli was an innovator, broadening the deli’s appeal by bringing in non-kosher food and combinations, such as ham, and meat and cheese.

There's a constant struggle between old and new

Ben’s Best in Queens, an institution for 70
Photo Credit: Flickr/Young Sok Yun

Ben’s Best in Queens, an institution for 70 years, is so popular that it has customers who come from Florida and beyond. It’s straddling the difficult line between maintaining traditions and modernizing by removing less-popular dishes such as lungen stew.

Broadway's first deli was a risky venture

Rialto Delicatessen was the first on Broadway, having
Photo Credit: Flickr/Pete Bellis

Rialto Delicatessen was the first on Broadway, having opened in 1927; Walter Winchell said it would be either “a fantastic success or one of the worst sideshows Broadway ever saw,” according to third-generation deli man Ziggy Gruber, whose grandfather opened the shop.

Love delis? Thank the Germans

The deli originated on the Lower East Side
Photo Credit: Flickr/SA_Steve

The deli originated on the Lower East Side in the mid-19th century. It was originally a German phenomenon. At its height, before World War II, there were thousands across the city.

This is one pricey business

Spiraling food costs are part of what’s crippling
Photo Credit: Flickr/Marie-Lan Nguyen

Spiraling food costs are part of what’s crippling the institution; Carnegie Deli manager Dennis Howard says “I don’t know if it’s worth it anymore; only an idiot like me still hangs in there.”

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