Nothing slashes the hearts of deli lovers more than the death of a deli. It robs us of our cherished memories, of our identity, of our past, and ultimately of our future. Short of the loss of loved ones and pets, it’s the ultimate heartbreak.
Well, brace yourself friends, because we’re about to witness something devastating. On January 30th, the Sara Lee Corporation will end production of all kosher deli products in its Chicago factory. That means no more Best’s Kosher,
Sinai Kosher, Shofar and Wilno products. No more corned beef, salamis, pastramis, and other meats from four of the best known deli brands in the Midwest.
Here’s the press release from Sarah Lee:
Sara Lee has decided to exit the kosher meat business, and discontinue processing and
distributing products made under all of its kosher meat brands, including Best’s Kosher,
Sinai Kosher, Shofar and Wilno. The closure of the Chicago facility, located at
1000 W. Pershing Road, will result in a workforce reduction of approximately 185 employees.
In addition, the company will also close the Sinai Kosher outlet store located on the premises.
This action originally was referenced in a Form 8-K filed by the company on July 22, 2008, as
the “decision to close a production facility in North America.”
“This decision was made after careful consideration of our strategic, long-term plan, which
focuses on categories where we have a strategic competitive advantage,” said CJ Fraleigh, Sara
Lee Corp.’s chief operating officer, North America. “We value the contributions made by our
employees and are working to help them prepare for the future by providing severance and
Following the discontinuation of operations at the Chicago facility, Sara Lee Corp. intends to
decommission the plant’s equipment and place the facility and property up for sale.
This is absolutely huge. Over the past century, Best’s Kosher, Sinai Kosher, Shofar and Wilno were all regarded as some of the top deli brands coming out of that great sausage town…Chicago. Best’s Kosher has been around since 1886, one of the oldest kosher food purveyors in the USA. The salamis of Wilno alone were legendary, hanging as far west as Los Angeles, and as far south as Florida. These deli brands fed delicatessens, both kosher and not, all over the United States. But as the deli business shrunk, and delis died off, the small family-owned meat purveyors closed down or consolidated. Over the years, all of these brands were absorbed by the giant food conglomerate Sara Lee, a massive corporation that may have begun with Jewish cheesecake, but now sells hundreds of products in dozens of countries around the world.
This is the fate that was inevitable for these brands. When a family sells their business to a corporation like Sara Lee, they cash in their loyalty, their pride, and their care. Corporations don’t care about tradition, authenticity, or flavor. They want to squeeze shareholder value out of recognized brand names. They want to leverage those names, expand product lines, cut costs, and squeeze every last penny out of every last hot dog. That’s their job. That’s what their shareholders and analysts and board demand. And that’s why this was always inevitable. Giant corporations suck at making deli products. They lack the family pride, the experience, the love, and the TAM. It took Sara Lee just fifteen years to acquire all these brands and drive them into the ground. The economy is bad, Sara Lee has huge costs it needs to cut, and kosher deli meats and Jewish deli meats don’t top the list. So they go. They die.
And the deli world is weaker for it.
I’ve been reminded by John Harris about a documentary film he made with Bill Chayes back in the 1990′s about the sale of a family meat business to Sara Lee. Divine Food: 100 Years In the Kosher Delicatessen Trade is a great testament to the deli makers out there, and foreshadows the concerns of family members about what will happen to their legacy in the hands of a giant conglomerate.