It’s never been harder for the legacy NY deli business. In addition to a switch in the American diet away from meat and heavy food, the deli sandwiches that have made Katz Delicatessen profitable in the past might be losing money. Founded in 1888 on the lower East Side, Katz thrived because deli meat was made from cheaper cuts. Nowadays, customers won’t countenance lower quality, and it is the side dishes, not the generously packed pastrami sandwiches, that help the deli run.
Jake Dell, the 27 year old heir to the Katz dynasty, as reported by Slate, is concerned about the future, but is hopeful. Katz is New York’s oldest surviving delicatessen. For those who didn’t know the institution already, it was the setting for Meg Ryan’s public faked orgasm on “When Harry Met Sally, ” which prompted the response from the director Rob Reiner’s mother, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
What seems to be propping up Katz is its history. Why else would someone pay nearly $20 for a sandwich? Dell lamented, “The thing that makes us loved is the thing that makes it hardest from an economic standpoint.”
With a drought that has raised beef prices, it has never been more difficult for Katz, but one advantage the deli has it is not renting. Stage Deli and the iconic 2nd Avenue deli have had to close because of rent hikes. That is maybe one reason that owners like Carnegie and Katz have remained, in spite of hard times.