There is a big problem in the big cities: traditional Jewish delis are closing at an alarming rate. New Yorkers and us Los Angelians have likely noticed a change in the last twenty years, of neighborhood delis closing down. This is leaving many with a lack of culture in America’s urban centers, and far worse, the spread of commercial chain-restaurants that offer no tradition, culture, and good food that can only be made by someone who you’ve known to make it just right for the last ten years. In essence, we are seeing the fall of many great food establishments, no matter how local their reach, without much being said about it.
My title is a play at Jerry Seinfeld, a man who made a random coffee-shop and a strictly run Soup deli quite popular on the hit show, Seinfeld. My theory: Jerry Seinfeld should start a new sitcom that takes place in a Jewish deli, as its base of operations. It is still a show about nothing. There are cameo appearances by up-and-coming actors and actresses. Retired from being a comedian, Jerry and a previously unnamed child of Uncle Leo (there has to be a humorous villain) decide to open a local deli, if not just to officially own a place for their former friends to come and share a bite.
The deli is diverse, as it attracts many different people. Between stand-up acts and following the life of a central cast, perhaps some of the old Seinfeld magic can be brought back and we can address the issue of the ‘Jewish deli’ being more than just a place to get a good kosher sandwich and pickle with a national audience, as a backdrop to a show that is essentially humor at its finest. Seinfeld and of course Larry David would be up to the task.
That idea stated, this trend is an unfortunate part of America’s market dynamics in big cities. Local eateries and ‘Mom and Pop’ type diners, no matter how unpretentious or high-scale, all usually depend on a local customer base who spreads popularity by word of mouth and a pocketbook.
Big cities are blanketed with commercial restaurants, on every corner, in proxy to every neighborhood, that offer diverse menus, powerful marketing campaigns and all sorts of flash and pizzaz. There are also smaller restaurants, still locally owned and operated, that are following the big competitor’s brand of foodmongering. Traditional delis are becoming more of a relic than a modern attraction for high-volume flow of customers. With rising costs of food, rent, supplies and even taxes, there comes a breaking point to where the restaurant will lose money.
That said, with the fall of traditional Jewish delis, there is also the opportunity for a new generation of restaurantiers to have success. It seems the younger generation wants a bit more art and flash with their foods, to feel like they are ‘out on the town’ while eating. There is no reason why a deli could not provide such a thing?
Also, popular culture needs to contribute. Seinfeld/David, we’re looking at you. The deli show, full of nothing but namesake, a good sandwich and funny characters who still complain about the mundane ironies of life, would be a great way to put the concept of the Jewish Deli back in the forefront while giving us something fun to watch on those lazy nights at home.