Save the Deli

Jeremy Lebewohl: Birth of a Deli Man

Jeremy Lebewohl, in his deli.

Back in Toronto now, after a wonderful few days in New York. As you’ve read in previous posts, the occasion was the reopening of the 2nd Ave Deli, which was truly fantastic. The reason behind this was one young man: Jeremy Lebewohl, and I want to take you through his day yesterday.

Say it with meat

First, a primer. Jeremy is young. Just 25. He’s educated, handsome, and a veteran of the Israeli military. Before this he was in the bagel business with his friend David Teyf, but over the past year he’s worked tirelessly to bring back the 2nd Ave Deli, a delicatessen started by his late uncle Abe, and run by his father Jack. Though he grew up in the original, he has no real counter experience, or experience running or working in a deli. In this sense, Jeremy Lebewohl is a very green deli man…but friends, I have tremendous faith in him, and yesterday I saw a nascent deli man start to take shape.

Firm, sweet, and a little slippery, the legendary kasha varnishkas were lovely.

After a Saturday off and a Sunday of finalizing details, Jeremy Lebewohl awoke at 3 am yesterday, kissed his sleeping wife, and headed off to his new deli. The morning shows were coming to film spots for television, and a huge media campaign would consume the whole morning…all the while, Jeremy and the delis staff had to start cooking, steaming, and cutting food for the first customers who’d arrive at 7 am, when the doors first opened. Over the next several hours, as dedicated regulars trickled in and ate soup and sandwiches for breakfast, Lebewohl walked around, put out fires (equipment and computer problems mostly), and gave what looked like dozens of interviews to everyone from Channel 6 to the New York Times.

Media Circus

He was cool, courteous and professional the whole time. So much so, that his father Jack (who is helping him open, but has the official role of “Proprietor’s Father” sat with me and had breakfast).

Jack Lebewohl, eating a breakfast of chopped egg, onion, and mushrooms (with plenty of schmaltz)

Jack was so happy, he went for a second breakfast of onions, mushrooms, and scrambled eggs. Gorgeously golden, they were by far the finest scrambled eggs I’ve ever eaten.

At 11, a phalanx of cameras assembled outside as Jeremy, his father, and the deli’s managers cut a string of nickel-a-shtickl salamis to officially open the deli. Mazel tovs went up in the air….and then, as they say, shit went crazy.

Within half an hour the lineup was out the door and halfway down the block to Lexington. Diehards and curious locals stood in the cold, with diminishing patience, as Jeremy walked, greeted, and handed out chopped liver with grevenes (which went with alarming speed).

Feeding the masses, freezing his asses.

Inside, problems with computers were jamming up the small area between the cash and the deli counter. Old countermen and waiters couldn’t figure out the new system. Orders were taking too long…old Jewish women started doing what they do best…kvetching.

Through it all, Jeremy kept his cool. He ran up and down the stairs, dealt with technicians, nervous new waiters, and customers, both grateful and complaining. He treated everyone with care, attention, and respect, and the frowns melted away. Jeremy has a natural feel for the job. His greatest strength, besides a taste for this food, is his love of people: of his staff, of his customers, and of his family. Soon, his cousin Sharon (Abe’s daughter), and Jack were there, praising him.

Sharon and Jack Lebewohl.

This was the scene, from noon until I left around 8pm. The lineup never died down. The problems would ebb and flow, but the entire time Jeremy never once lost his cool…never once gave an inch on quality. The food was incredible and everyone went away satisfied. Here’s yesterday’s highlights.

Mushroom Barley Soup: The original deli was known for its porcini version…the new one has shitake and is smokey, somewhat sweet, and simply perfect after a wait in the cold.

Cabbage Roll: Sweet, sour, wonderfully tender, yet firm meat, with just a hint of cinnamon and other spices. Gorgeous.

Rolled Beef sandwich: this is a meat that only two delis carry in all of America. It is difficult to make and expensive, but oh my good Hebrew lord it tastes wonderful. Like incredibly creamy roast beef, super duper trooper tender, with just enough pepper to give it a kick.

At 7pm, after fourteen hours straight, he sat down for five minutes and we shared a beer in the basement. Then he went and worked until 1 am, feeding the hungry crowd who wanted nothing more than for his delicatessen to succeed.

A rare moment of silence, rest, and sweet Israeli beer.

And here’s what I saw. I saw a deli pulling through an incredible first day with bravado. I saw crowds of young and old, rich and poor, local and foreign, Jewish and not, all of whom were more than willing to wait for New York’s most revered family run Jewish delicatessen.

Me and Fuyvush Finkel: a true deli fan and legend of the stage and screen.

I saw in Jeremy Lebewohl a great deli man in the making, soon to be mentioned with the type of reverence associated with the late Max Asnas, Leo Steiner, Shmulke Berstein, and his uncle, the legendary Abe Lebewohl.

Mazel Tov Jeremy. You’ve earned this success.
Go. Eat. Give him a fat hug.

The 2nd Ave Deli
162 E. 33rd St., New York, NY 10016
open 24/7

More deli stories from yesterday.

The Regulars Return for the Usual, No Longer on Second Avenue
by Jennifer 8. Lee
New York Times

I sat and talked with Jennifer yesterday and we are indeed kindred spirits. I’m writing a book about deli, she’s writing one on Chinese food and its relation with Americans. She’s hilarious and an excellent writer, and any deli/chinese food lover must check out her blog

Susan Watts is a staff photographer with the New York Daily News. Her gallery of pics from opening day are stellar.

New York Magazine’s fearless foodie, Josh Ozersky, at the deli

New York Newsday
Go to the photo pop up and check out me, handing out chopped liver in the first frame.

5 Responses to “Jeremy Lebewohl: Birth of a Deli Man”

  1. Save The Deli » Blog Archive » A Birthday Worth Celebrating Says:

    [...] Amazingly there are plenty of people here in New York who do not know that the 2nd Ave Deli reopened last December 17th, a year ago tomorrow. I don’t know if they live in caves or aren’t really deli fans or [...]

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