Today, the deli landscape features both Jewish-style delicatessens, like Katz’s — which aren’t kosher but that serve smoked salmon and lox along with cured meat and fresh Jewish pastries — and a few remaining kosher delis, such as Jay & Lloyd’s in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.
Opened in 1993, Jay & Lloyd’s is operated by third-generation deli owner Lloyd Lederman and Jay Stern, boyhood friends who grew up down the street from each other in Brooklyn. “We saw the old ways going,” Lederman says. “Most of the delis were becoming commercialized, and they didn’t have that traditional deli atmosphere and flavor. We are using Grandma and Grandpa’s recipes and holding true to form.”
Lederman says that despite the focus on quality and authenticity, economics have influenced the overall decline of the deli in New York. Sax agrees, saying that the pure economics of providing meat that requires such stringent processing — necessary to make a pastrami sandwich sing — is a factor.
“To begin with, people expect food to be inexpensive,” Sax says. “But the real delis do the work themselves. The meat needs to be cured, smoked, pickled, trimmed and processed in a very specific way, and that’s expensive. The profit margins are maybe 20 to 25 percent on a towering six-inch corned beef sandwich.”
Lederman says that although kosher meats and products are more expensive, they offer superior quality. “Sure, you can get a sandwich at the local bagel deli counter for $5,” he says. “But you are getting what you pay for.”
But beyond the quality of the beef, part of what the customer is paying for is the deli experience. “We kibitz with our customers,” Lederman says, referring to the Yiddish term for joking. “It’s almost like a Catskills Mountains, Borscht Belt routine around here. That’s what makes the New York deli unique.”
Faithful Jay & Lloyd’s customer Jeffrey Rodus, who has been an avid fan since the day the deli opened their doors 18 years ago, agrees.
“There are very few things that compare to the deli,” Rodus says. “It’s that smell of pickles and pastrami that hits you when you walk in the door, the family atmosphere where they know you, and the taste of a combo pastrami-and-corned beef sandwich on rye with sweet pepper and coleslaw. It’s a religious experience.”