There are many victims of gentrification and raising rents in New York City, including many of its historic delis and diners – for example, The Carnegie Deli which was located next to Carnegie Music Hall went out of business in 2016. While people want ‘authentic’ New York experiences in the form of longstanding businesses and eateries, they’re getting harder and harder to find. This is partly why Katz’s Delicatessen at 205 East Houston Street is such a treat. Well, that and the food.
According to the official history, Katz’s Delicatessen was established in New York City’s Lower East Side on Ludlow Street in 1888 by Morris and Hyman Iceland, who named their deli Iceland Brothers. Willy Katz joined the venture in 1903 and the name was changed to Iceland & Katz, and Willy and his cousin Harry Tarowsky bought out the Iceland brothers and changed the name to Katz’s Delicatessen in 1910. In 1917 the construction of the subway system forced the deli to move across the street to its present location on Houston. The entrance remained on Ludlow and the Houston Street location was used for storage of meat and pickles until the storefront was constructed in the late 1940s.
This account is called into question by an article written by Robert Moss, who argues immigration records show the Iceland brothers arrived in the United States in 1902, notes that William Katz would have only been 13 in 1903, and theorizes that the true founding of the restaurant may have been in 1911. Whatever the case may be, Katz’s Delicatessen became a favorite community eatery for local immigrants and was frequented by many stars of Yiddish theater in the area. When the owners’ sons served in World War II, the deli’s slogan “Send A Salami To Your Boy In The Army” was born – as was the deli’s tradition of sending food to members of the US military. The other famous slogan on the restaurant’s sign, “Katz, That’s All” came from a misunderstanding when the maker of the sign asked owner Harry Tarowsky what to print on the sign and that was Tarowsky’s reply.
The business remained in the family until its 100th year anniversary, when it was sold to Alan and Martin Dell, who clearly recognized the value in both the deli’s history and its reputation for serving great food. Katz’s has been visited by dozens of celebrities over the years, evidenced by the photos that line the walls. It was also the filming location for the famous diner scene in the movie When Harry Met Sally, and there is a sign hanging from the ceiling indicating what table they sat at. According to an article in the Daily News, Katz serves “15,000 pounds of pastrami; 8,000 pounds of corned beef and 4,000 hot dogs” per week. Considering that each sandwich feels like it has five pounds of meat on it, this makes sense.
While Covid presented difficulties for the deli and necessitated shipping their famous food nationwide and scaling back their seating, in 2022 the deli is packed with a line stretching out into the street. The ordering system is unique: you’re given a ticket when you come in, and then wait in different lines at the counter for your sandwiches, sides, and drinks, paying when you hand in your ticket on leaving – so don’t lose it! The sandwiches are pricey but enormous and delicious, and it’s easy to see why they are considered among New York’s best. There are a lot of new restaurants that work to mimic the genuine feel of an eatery with decades of history under their belt, but there’s no substitute for the real thing. Though I hope Katz’s Delicatessen is around for 100 more years, nothing lasts forever, and eating there is an experience you won’t want to miss on your visit to the city.
Matthew Christopher NY New York Jul 06, 2022 Food Places to Visit Reviews