Legendary Katz’s Deli has been slinging pastrami sandwiches and matzo ball soup in Manhattan’s Lower East Side neighborhood for 132 years. Through wars, terrorist attacks, hurricanes and more, the restaurant has remained open to serve hungry New Yorkers and tourists.
As New York has become a hot spot for the coronavirus pandemic, fifth-generation owner Jake Dell is facing the challenges head-on.
“I have a staff of a little over 200, and I’ve managed to not lay anyone off so far,” he told The Daily Meal from the landmark with the still-bustling staff working hard behind him. “I am fighting every day and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure it stays that way.”
The way Dell sees it, staying open was the only option.
“We’re here because the community needs us,” he said. “We’re an anchor of New York City as a whole, and we take that responsibility very seriously.”
The deli is not open to dine-in, but the delivery and pickup orders are still flowing. Far away diners looking for a taste of New York can even have menu items delivered with free two-day shipping throughout the pandemic. To protect employees and patrons, precautions include masks, limiting the number of customers in the restaurant, and new work stations spread 6 feet apart.
“We look out for each other,” Dell said as he described how the staff is like a family, down to making sure staffers don’t have to worry about their bills if they start to feel sick. “I have guys that have been here for a very long time. Guys that remember me in diapers.”
In addition to pickup and local deliveries, Katz’s also depends on its shipping department. With the coined slogan “Send a Salami to your Boy in the Army” — made to rhyme only with the thickest of New York accents — the deli has been shipping cured meat all over the world since World War II.
Today, that army includes the health care workers fighting COVID-19, with Katz’s sending meals to hospital workers as well as making soup donations to over 200 low-income senior citizens in the community every day.
So when states reopen and society returns to its “new normal,” how will a 132-year-old icon like Katz’s readjust? “I have no idea,” Dell said. “As it comes, we roll with the punches, we figure it out and take it day by day.”