Katz's Deli Is Aiding the Fight Against Coronavirus One Salami at a Time
"Salami is just the most durable thing ever. I mean, you can hang and leave it for years and it'll be okay."
Though the deli which officially became Katz’s Delicatessen in 1910 opened on Ludlow Street in New York’s Lower East Side in 1888, it wasn’t until World War II that the slogan many equate with the iconic eatery — “Send a salami to your boy in the Army!” — was coined.
Someone came up with the saying (which rhymes, to a New Yorker) after a batch of salamis was sent to some extended members of the Katz’s family during wartime.
“The owner at that time, one of my grandfather’s partners, his three sons were serving overseas in the armed forces and their grandma was worried they weren’t eating well,” Jake Dell, the third-generation owner of the pastrami purveyor where Harry met Sally, tells InsideHook. “So the story goes that they figured out how to wrap up some salamis and send them overseas. And ever since then, we’ve been doing that.”
So, why salami instead of pastrami or corned beef?
“It is difficult to ship overseas through the post office and things can take weeks and weeks to get there,” Dell says. “So really, it’s just that salami that can hold up to that kind of intense travel time. That’s kind of why traditionally we never sent anything else to your boy in the army. Salami is just the most durable thing ever. I mean, you can hang and leave it for years and it’ll be okay. But you probably don’t want to do that.”
Now, with coronavirus running rampant and large swaths of the country on lockdown, Katz’s is still sending salamis (along with soups and other hearty foods) to people who need some comfort in these trying times.
“We ship salamis overseas every week,” Dell says. “My father used to say, ‘Wherever there’s a U.S. Soldier, there’s a Katz’s salami.’ But it’s not just salamis; we’re sending everything wherever we can. We’re shipping all over the country. We’re finding that there are some, really sweet messages. A lot of ‘Hey, wish I could be there with you, hang in there, thinking of you’ types of messages. They’re great and kind of show the nicer side of humanity in all this.”
In a typical week, Katz’s will ship 500 to 1,000 orders, but they have seen somewhat of a spike in the last three weeks as the pandemic has worsened.
“New York’s on lockdown so people aren’t walking around,” Dell says. “So, there are very few people coming in, but we’re doing a decent delivery business. It’s kind of helping us with the main store and helping to support the 200 employees that we have working here.”
In addition to shipping nationwide, Katz’s is also getting involved at the local level by making deliveries all over the city and donating food to feed a different senior citizen building on the Lower East Side each day.
“We’re donating about a hundred soups per day, some days a little more, some days a little less depending on how many people are living in that building,” Dell says. “We’re working with the Henry Street Settlement and Grand Street Settlement, which are local organizations, and feeding entire buildings at a time, one at a time. It’s just the responsibility that we have being a part of the neighborhood.
Dell’s hope is that, in addition to being delicious and nourishing, all the food Katz’s is serving up during this trying time will be rich in both nostalgia and comfort.
“Traditional foods are all of these things, right?” he says. “There’s something triggered emotionally that makes you feel a little better. It’s good for the soul. And matzo ball soup, I’m no doctor, but can it cure just about everything you. If it can cure a broken leg, maybe it can do something for this. There’s a definite emotional component that’s happening.”
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