Katz’s Delicatessen: New York’s Famous, Unique Deli

By Eric Holden – @ New York Jewish Guide

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Most Americans know Katz’s delicatessen from the 1989 classic “When Harry Met Sally…,” as Meg Ryan’s scene in the deli is one of the most famous moments in the history of comedy cinema.

During the scene, Ryan is seen enjoying a sandwich and conversing with Billy Crystal, when she suddenly whips into a frenzy and yells, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” at the top of her lungs.

What happened next truly carved Katz’s a place in comedy cinema history, as Estelle Reiner calmly declared to a waiter, “I’ll have what she’s having” in response to Ryan’s outburst.

Hope You Have What She Had!

Close to a quarter-century later, Katz’s cameo in the movie is still a hit with tourists who visit the deli. In the middle of the deli, a sign that reads, “Where Harry met Sally … hope you have what she had!” hangs above the table where Ryan and Crystal sat in the movie.

Since the movie’s release, tourists have been flocking to sit at the Katz’s table where Ryan dined and have their photos taken in the chair where Crystal wolfed down his sandwich.

“When Harry Met Sally…” may have put Katz’s on the national radar and made it a hit with tourists, but locals enjoy the deli for much more than just a cameo in a movie. For over 100 years, New Yorkers have been scarfing down Katz’s hot dogs, pastrami sandwiches, and matzo ball soup, each of which are among the best in the city.

Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army

One of the unique pieces of Katz’s lure is its support of American troops via the shipping of three-month aged, all-beef hard salami, but not many New Yorkers know how the deli’s famous “Send a Salami to your Boy in the Army” phrase got its start.

Katz’s truly hit its stride in the early 1940s, just as the United States became involved in World War II. The family knew they wanted to do something to lift the spirits of soldiers and sailors serving our country, so they set up a system for parents to purchase salamis to send overseas. The three sons of the Katz’s owners at the time served in World War II.

“Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army” quickly became a popular motto for the deli, as it’s based off lyrics from Tom Lehrer’s “So Long, Mom (A Song for World War III).” Over 70 years later, parents are still partnering with Katz’s to support the troops, and the “Send a Salami” program has grown far beyond just food.

Parents can now send T-shirts, aprons, sweatshirts, and hats — each bearing the Katz’s Deli logo — to their children serving overseas.

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What Else Is Unique About Katz’s?

When it comes to Jewish delis, it doesn’t get more authentic than Katz’s. While the price of a sandwich at Katz’s will run you $12 to $15, each one comes loaded with close to a pound of meat and a side of pickles.

Besides the hot dogs, pastrami, and soups, the brisket and corned beef sandwiches come covered and smothered with sauerkraut and mustard on rye bread.

Another original aspect of Katz’s is the ordering process. Besides a cash-only, pay-when-you-leave system, first-timers sometimes struggle with properly ordering because there’s a lengthy system to it.

First, as you walk inside, you’re handed a red ticket by the doorman. Next, patrons order their food, and the ticket is written on by the order taker. Finally, customers submit payment as they hand the ticket to the cashier while walking out the door. It sounds simple enough, but Katz’s charges a $50 fee for customers who lose their tickets.

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The fee is in place to help prevent theft, as Katz’s doesn’t want people to eat their food and then pretend they never received a ticket to avoid paying. The tickets help keep an accurate tally of the items ordered by customers.

The restaurant, which is located at 205 E. Houston St. on the corner of Ludlow on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, has been open since 1888, making it one of the oldest delis in the New York metro area.

Katz’s deli remained in the Katz’s family for over 100 years, before Martin Dell and his son Alan, along with Fred Austin, took over the establishment in the 1980s. In 2009, Alan’s son joined the partnership and currently handles all aspects of the business.

mh- New York Jewish Guide.com

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