Places that Matter
Place Matters Profile
The deli was founded in 1888 by the Kostagin brothers and taken over by the Katz family in 1912. In 1988 the present owners, Fred and Juli Austin and her brother Alan Dell and his wife Diana purchased the deli. It has changed only minimally in the past century. It is famous for its meal-ticket system of purchasing food, the store-length counter and the salamis that hang throughout the store. The staff is multi-ethnic and come from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Egypt, Cuba, Australia, and Trinidad. An average of 2,000 customers pass through its doors each day, and the establishment is also a New York City must-see for many presidents, politicians, film stars, and athletes. Katz’s is also well known for its photos of famous people eating in Katz's hung on its walls. Each week, Katz's serves 5,000 pounds of corned beef, 2,000 pounds of salami and 12,000 hot dogs. It is the oldest Jewish deli (but not kosher deli—see Gastropolis: Food & New York City by Anne Hauck-Lawson, 2009) in the neighborhood.
Katz’s occupies a place in U.S. popular culture. During World War II, Katz's encouraged parents to "send a salami to your boy in the army" which became one of the deli's famous catch phrases, along with "Katz's, that's all!" which is still painted on the side of the building. The former phrase is referenced in the Tom Lehrer song "So Long Mom (A Song for World War III)," with the lyric "Remember Mommy, I'm off to get a commie, so send me a salami, and try to smile somehow." Katz's continues its "Send a salami to your boy in the army" to this day. The deli has arranged special international shipping only for U.S. military addresses and has been a source of gift packages to the troops stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq. The deli has also been featured has been in several films--When Harry Met Sally, Donnie Brasco, Across the Universe, and Enchanted.
Katz’s is also known for its iconic deli food such as knishes, pickles, cream soda, hot dogs, and also it specialty sandwiches (the pastrami on rye costs $14.95 that is loaded with meat and several pickles on the side) Its famous corned beef is soaked in pickling solution for a month and its pastrami is pickled and smoked out-of-house. (Pastrami comes from the Romanian word, pastra—“to preserve,” a reminder of the Romanian community who also once made this neighborhood their home.)
Though Germans opened the first delis in New York City as early as 1846, it is Jewish deli foods have become synonymous with New York City, and by the 1890s they were common on the Lower East Side. For the tenement dwellers they were popular partly because many of the apartments didn’t have kitchens and during the sweltering summers it was too hot to cook. Katz’s serves as a reminder of the neighborhood’s culinary history.
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