Eat Deli for Charity

Kenny & Ziggy's owner keeps the spirit alive with national Deli Month

Kenny & Ziggy's owner keeps the spirit alive with national Deli month

Houston, Kenny & Ziggy's, December 2015, Zellagabetsky sandwich
Ziggy Gruber has organized an effort to celebrate delis nationwide. Photo by Paula Murphy

All across the country, delis are in trouble. The closure of New York’s iconic Carnegie Deli at the end of 2016 served as only another sign that the venerable institutions are going away.

But delis will not go quietly into the night — not if Ziggy Gruber has anything to say about it. The owner of Kenny & Ziggy’s New York Delicatessen & Restaurant wants to remind people all over the country about how delicious the food served at delis can be. Towards that end, Gruber, who was featured in the Deli Man documentary, has organized restaurants across the country to celebrate New York Deli Month.

“What happened was a bunch of delicatessen people got together . . . we were all talking that a lot of times in most of these cities delis are never asked to be included in restaurant week,” Gruber tells CultureMap. “I don’t know what the reason is.”

Whatever the reason, NY Deli Month gives delis a chance to shine by allowing them to run either special dishes or prix fixe menus during the month of August that highlight dishes people may have overlooked. Gruber has recruited over 20 restaurants to participate, including Manny's Deli & Cafeteria in Chicago, Factor’s Famous Deli in Los Angeles, and Hobby’s Deli in Newark. How did Gruber recruit some of the deli world’s biggest names to join him?

“Look, I’ve been doing this for 37 years. I know all the owners,” Gruber says. “We talk on a regular basis. We bounce ideas off each other to perpetuate our survival. I just picked up the phone.”

Locally, Kenny & Ziggy’s will serve a three-course, $37 menu that features choices such as chopped liver or a knish to start, roasted chicken or Roumanian steak for an entree, and cheesecake or seven-layer cake for dessert. As Gruber notes, it’s the same menu he ran last year during Deli Month’s inaugural run.

“The reality is delicatessen and Jewish food stays pretty much the same,” Gruber says with a laugh. “This isn’t One Fifth over here.”

Like other restaurant weeks, Deli Month has a charitable component. Kenny & Ziggy’s will donate 10 percent of sales to the Holocaust Museum Houston, which recently announced plans for a $33.8 million expansion. In addition, the museum will be offering anyone who buys a Deli Month meal a complimentary ticket for two entries to its temporary location opening in September at 9220 Kirby Drive.

“We thought it would be great to tie into our communities to really show that all the delis are part of the community,” Gruber says. “You know, a delicatessen is not just a regular restaurant. It’s the center of a Jewish community or neighborhood. We wanted to give back.”