There have been few people here at Save the Deli that I have expressed displeasure for, but one of those was certainly Isaac “Ike” Starkman, the founder and owner of the California chain Jerry’s Famous Deli, and the man ultimately responsible for the closing of Miami’s beloved Rascal House. I’ve remarked at my displeasure for the way Mr. Starkman and his sons cannibalized Rascal House and sold it for the chance of condominiums, trading on the name of the landmark deli. I even started a petition protesting this. Every attempt to interview him was refuted, ignored, and denied.
But it saddens me to hear about the sudden death of Mr. Starkman, who passed away on July 4th of a heart attack in Miami.
I’ll quote from his obituary in the Miami Herald:
”He was the most ambitious and most respected guy I’ve met in my whole life,” said his son, Jason, “a one in a million kind of guy.”
Born in Israel in 1937, Starkman served in the Israeli Defense Forces as a lieutenant from 1955 to 1958, before moving to New York in 1961. He arrived with $103 in his pocket and not much else, Jason said. His first job was as a courier.
In 1978 he co-founded Jerry’s Famous Deli in Beverly Hills and Studio City, Calif. Today the restaurant has seven locations in California and one in Florida. That was his pride, family said.
”He was [at Jerry's in South Beach] every morning without fail,” Jason said. “That was his office.”
No one will be allowed to sit at the table from now on, Jason said.
Ike Starkman was not your typical deli man. He introduced us to big delis, crowded out his menus with wraps, salads, pizzas, and even lobster…obscuring much of the Jewish flavor. He once professed in an interview to see the traditional deli foods as outdated, and thought that Israeli style spreads and salads were more relevant. A deli man he was not.
But he was ambitious. He began a deli empire. He took the first delicatessen public, listing his company under the symbol DELI, for a brief, unsuccessful period. He may have earned the scorn of deli lovers and owners alike, but he gave them something to compete against, showed us what else there was out there, and how deli could go the other way. And though his deli food was rather awful and overpriced, he still served deli, and for that he should earn our respect.
A heartfelt Alef Hashalom goes out to the entire Starkman family and staff of Jerry’s Famous Deli for their loss.