Katz’s sells its air rights, but says famed deli’s look will remain

Katz’s Deli at Houston and Orchard Sts. Downtown Express photo by Gerard Flynn.
Katz’s Deli at Houston and Orchard Sts. Downtown Express photo by Gerard Flynn.

BY GERARD FLYNN  |  Recent news reports and rumors that a developer will be hoisting luxury condominiums atop Katz’s on the corner of Houston and Ludlow Sts. aren’t true, Jake Dell, the famed deli’s owner, told Downtown Express this week.

“The look, the feel” of Katz’s, now in its 126th year, will stay the same, Dell said. 

He did confirm, however, that he had made a deal to sell “air rights,” also known as development rights, to a developer, whom he declined to identify. But an agent from a nearby real estate company, who declined to be named, said he was “99 percent sure” it is Benjamin Shaoul, head of Magnum Real Estate Group. Strong rumors to that effect have been circulating for weeks in the neighborhood. 

Shaoul, also known as the “Sledgehammer,” didn’t return a call for comment. 

Now more likely to be feted in real estate trade magazines and snapped by celebrity photographers, Shaoul has been the focus of many news articles about his removing rent-stabilized residents from their apartments, before putting the units back online as market rate.

“The bottom line is Katz’s storefront is going to stay as is,” Dell said. “We are staying. I am fifth generation and I am going to make sure Katz’s lasts at least another 50 years.”

Having witnessed so many changes in the area over the years, Dell said he’s fine with new construction on the block. But for another beloved restaurant on the other corner of Houston St., the prospect of more luxury condos brought closure after nearly 20 years in business.

Bereket, a Turkish and Middle Eastern kebab shop, shuttered at the end of June. Its departure marked the beginning of the end for other stores along the strip. 

A small deli a few storefronts down doesn’t look like it does a lot of business, but it has been here for even longer, its owner Abdul said. 

His lease expired in May, but he has been given two reprieves and is looking at November as a termination date.  He estimated that Bereket had been forking over $20,000 a month for around 1,000 square feet of space. 

When Abdul started out at the location, he said he would pay $2,500 a month in rent. 

And today? 

“If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me,” he said, adding that he works hard seven days a week just to earn a salary.  

The unnamed real estate agent speculated that with current zoning imposing a height cap of 120 feet, the unused space above Katz’s Delicatessen might be “transferred” to allow increased density and thus more apartments at adjacent sites along Orchard and E. Houston Sts.

Bowery Boogie reported on Aug. 29 that Katz’s had sold its development rights, and the Web site speculated that perhaps a new development would “cantilever” over Katz’s. 

The agent praised the arrival of more luxury development and the towering hotels under construction nearby because, he said, retail stores need a lot more foot traffic.

Boutiques on side streets below Houston St. on Labor Day were struggling, with some shuttered and others selling merchandise for half price. 

But not everyone is happy with the upmarket changes the Lower East Side has seen in recent years.  

No sooner then she had plopped herself down on a stoop around the corner on Ludlow St., a dismayed Susan Scutti asked, “What ever happened to Max Fish?” 

Max Fish was a popular haven for artists. The bar opened in 1989, when the neighborhood was still ragtag and drew celebrity names like Johnny Depp.  “Oh, my God,” she said in dismay, as she surveyed what was left of that scene. “This is not the Lower East Side, after all.”