Our Recipe for Unity
Katz's Deli Exterior

My Well-Savored Meal at Katz’s

My first view of the already-unassuming Katz’s Delicatessen is obscured by a cable truck; work is being done on the lines running under the corner of Ludlow and Houston in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

I’m disappointed--I was really hoping to get pictures of the building, as we’re here on a trip for Our Recipe for Unity℠.

As we turn onto Ludlow, I see the famous building’s aged brick walls and famous “Katz’s -- That’s All!” sign--a happy accident that came about when the sign maker incorrectly interpreted what they wanted printed on the sign--and the neon glow emanating from the front door shines through my disappointment and the cloudy sky, indicating to me that that the energy inside will betray the establishment’s modest exterior.

I barely notice the attendant handing me my ticket (which I must use to get my food), as I feel I’ve taken a step back in time, awash in the glow of neon and flourescence coloring the wall’s wood panels. On these panels hang autographed pictures, some very old and faded, of owners and employees with various celebrities throughout the years.

Katz's Interior

Having not known much at all about this restaurant before coming, I expected a small Jewish deli with good food, but the decor, as well as the thundering din of dozens of languages, got me thinking--what is so special about this place? What’s the history of this 130-year-old Kosher-style deli, and how did it get where it is now? So, while we ordered and waited for our food, I did some research.

Having just learned so much, my perception of this room immediately changes. Now, to me, the square knishes, cole slaw, pastrami sandwiches, and Diet Dr. Brown we ordered aren’t just lunch, and they’re not just an opportunity to learn a bit about Jewish food in New York. They’re symbols of 130 years of togetherness; of closing gaps; of meeting new people; of enjoying food as equals. The celebrities aren’t just famous people looking to get their picture in a tourist destination; many of them are those with roots in the Lower East Side whose relatives may have eaten, laughed, and cried in this very deli.

People from truly every walk of life are enjoying their food, and I’m consistently surprised at the groups of people walking through the door. A group of Japanese tourists is followed by a troupe of FDNY firefighters, who are trailed by men in suits toting leather briefcases--and no one seems to notice. We are all made equals by our experience at Katz’s, whether we are firefighters, businessmen, or tourists, or whether we speak Italian, Russian, German, or Spanish (all languages heard in tandem at Katz’s).

We eat, pay, snap a few pics, and left, and I know I need time to reflect on my visit to this iconic destination.

We at Our Recipe for Unity couldn’t help but learn an important lesson from our experience, and it’s one that lies at the core of our mission. No matter who you are, what language, you speak, where you come from, or how much money you make, we all order from the same counter and sit at the same tables. We eat the same pickles; we eat the same sandwiches; we all get charged the same $50 for losing our tickets.

Our country has a chance to be the world’s Katz’s Deli--a hub where those who want or need to eat with us are welcomed. We can truly be a tossed salad, not a melting pot--a place where each ingredient maintains its integrity in the mixture. The food we ate was no less Jewish because non-Jewish people were eating it, and the group of Russians behind us and the group of Italians to our left were not any less Russian or Italian.

What do you think? Drop us a comment or question here or share this post below to start the discussion, and submit a Recipe or Food Connection Story related to a time where somewhere like Katz’s brought people together around food.

Unity in the Lower East Side

"It was a place where, despite immigrants tending to live in homogenous enclaves together, everyone could come be equalized by food and conversation."

In 1888, New York’s Lower East Side was welcoming tens to hundreds of thousands of new immigrants, starting with Germans, Italians, Greeks, and immigrants from several Eastern European countries. Two of these immigrants were Morris and Hyman Iceland, who formed the establishment that would later become Katz’s Deli (it was originally “Iceland Brothers”!).

Willy and Benny Katz, two cousins, immigrated to the United States and bought the establishment, which became Iceland & Katz, then Katz’s (after their landlord Harry Tarowsky bought into the business).

Now, there was a distinct lack of both public and private transportation in the Lower East Side at this time, and as such, those who lived there couldn’t travel far. The deli therefore became a hub for locals, who would meet on Fridays to enjoy franks, beans, and gossip. It was a place where, despite immigrants tending to live in homogenous enclaves together, everyone could come be equalized by food and conversation. It helped unite groups of people that may have otherwise never met, and to this day, Katz’s continues that legacy.

A New Perspective
sandwich

Having just learned so much, my perception of this room immediately changes. Now, to me, the square knishes, cole slaw, pastrami sandwiches, and Diet Dr. Brown we ordered aren’t just lunch, and they’re not just an opportunity to learn a bit about Jewish food in New York. They’re symbols of 130 years of togetherness; of closing gaps; of meeting new people; of enjoying food as equals. The celebrities aren’t just famous people looking to get their picture in a tourist destination; many of them are those with roots in the Lower East Side whose relatives may have eaten, laughed, and cried in this very deli.

People from truly every walk of life are enjoying their food, and I’m consistently surprised at the groups of people walking through the door. A group of Japanese tourists is followed by a troupe of FDNY firefighters, who are trailed by men in suits toting leather briefcases--and no one seems to notice. We are all made equals by our experience at Katz’s, whether we are firefighters, businessmen, or tourists, or whether we speak Italian, Russian, German, or Spanish (all languages heard in tandem at Katz’s).

We eat, pay, snap a few pics, and left, and I know I need time to reflect on my visit to this iconic destination.

We at Our Recipe for Unity℠ couldn’t help but learn an important lesson from our experience, and it’s one that lies at the core of our mission. No matter who you are, what language, you speak, where you come from, or how much money you make, we all order from the same counter and sit at the same tables. We eat the same pickles; we eat the same sandwiches; we all get charged the same $50 for losing our tickets.

Our country has a chance to be the world’s Katz’s Deli--a hub where those who want or need to eat with us are welcomed. We can truly be a tossed salad, not a melting pot--a place where each ingredient maintains its integrity in the mixture. The food we ate was no less Jewish because non-Jewish people were eating it, and the group of Russians behind us and the group of Italians to our left were not any less Russian or Italian.

What do you think? Drop us a comment or question here or share this post below to start the discussion, and submit a Recipe or Food Connection Story related to a time where somewhere like Katz’s brought people together around food.

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