It has been a rough decade for delicatessen. New York’s famed Stage Deli served its last overstuffed sandwich in 2012, and the Carnegie Deli closed last December. If two such icons can’t make it in the Big Apple, what hope is there for the provinces?
While the Stage and the Carnegie both had real estate issues of different sorts, the reality is that deli popularity has been declining for decades. Part of the downward trend is a general preference for healthier food, and some of it is generational: today’s consumers view a deli as a theme restaurant, while their parents and grandparents saw it as a place to get the food they ate every day. The further you get from the old country, the more sophisticated you become.
One Manhattan exception is Katz’s, located on the Lower East Side at 205 Houston Street. Founded in 1888, Katz’s is still family-run, and the lines that snake around the block attest to its popularity. In an average week, they are reputed to serve 15,000 pounds of their celebrated pastrami.
Pretty soon everyone will have access to that pastrami, whether or not you have a decent deli in your neighborhood. Eater.com reports that Katz’s owner, Jake Dell, is opening a 30,000 square-foot production facility in New Jersey and plans to ship his pastrami around the world. While Katz’s presently offers delivery to U.S. destinations, the new plant will give them a vastly expanded reach— New Yorkers will be able to move to Bogota or Bangladesh and still enjoy some of the comforts of home.
What’s so special about Katz’s pastrami? They won’t divulge the recipe, but they’re not above bragging about some of the details. The meat is cured slowly for up to 30 days, compared to many establishments that pressure-cook their pastrami for 36 hours. No chemicals, water or additives are used, and the result is tender and juicy.
Katz’s appears to believe that their new shipping facility will give consumers around the world the opportunity to enjoy their pastrami. In reality, most of the orders will probably come from local delis who will resell the product. Where they plan on getting the rye bread, of course, is a different challenge.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is now available from Black Opal Books. For more information, go to amazon.com.