On the Line / Bar & Nightclub / What is a Delicatessen?

What is a Delicatessen?

Traditionally, a delicatessen specializes in the foods of Jewish cuisine, particularly cooked meats like pastrami and corned beef and prepared foods such as potato salads, coleslaws, and pickles.

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1. What is a delicatessen?

Traditionally, a delicatessen specializes in the foods of Jewish cuisine, particularly cooked meats like pastrami and corned beef and prepared foods such as potato salads, coleslaws, and pickles. 

The menus are extensive and inspire bicoastal rivalries over the best pastrami on rye. But today, delis showcase a variety of ethnic cuisines, especially Italian (also Greek, German, and more), and are often restaurant-slash-gourmet markets filled with imported delicacies. 

Regardless of the type of cuisine, most delis are noted for their simple ambiance and no-nonsense service. Meats are often hand-sliced and served in heaping sandwiches with various kinds of cheese. 

Several delis in the U.S. have been operating for more than one hundred years, and the category inspires passion and devotion among American diners.

2. What is the history of delicatessens?

The word delicatessen derives from German and French and loosely translates as “delicious things to eat.”

The very first deli, Dallmayr, opened 300 years ago in Germany, importing gourmet items from faraway places, and is still in business today. It wasn’t until the 1880s that delis began appearing in New York and other U.S. cities, catering to European and German-Jewish immigrant populations with butcher-shop offerings of kosher sausages and cured meats. 

The popularity of delis skyrocketed during the 20th century and turned up in various iterations, from classic sandwich shops and full-service restaurants to fast food outlets and supermarket counters.

3. What is typically on a delicatessen menu?

Whether Italian, Jewish, or another type of cuisine, delicatessen menus revolve around sandwiches piled high with cured and smoked meats. 

Popular options include pastrami, corned beef, brisket, tri-tip, salamis, bologna, turkey, roast beef, and ham. Each type of deli has its signature items. At Italian delis, cold sandwiches are usually accompanied by an assortment of hot subs featuring meatballs or grilled sausages. Plates of classic Italian comfort food round out the selections, ranging from red sauce pasta dishes to meatloaf. 

The Jewish deli offers quintessentially Jewish treats such as potato knishes, half-sour or full-sour pickles, whitefish salad, latkes, and comforting soups. Desserts also reflect the deli’s ethnic cuisine, with babka and New York cheesecake at most Jewish delis and cannoli and amaretti snaps at Italian counterparts. 

Some Jewish delis in areas with large Jewish populations might be kosher, meaning that they will either serve meat or dairy-based offerings, but not both. Market research is essential to understanding the needs of the community.

4. How do you start a delicatessen?

Conducting market research is an excellent place to start. The goal is to identify the most promising areas of the market, as well as gain an understanding of potential challenges and how you can address them. 

Once the market research is done, you can decide on the concept of your deli. A casual order-at-the-counter lunch spot will have different needs than a sit-down restaurant with a waitstaff. 

Another major consideration is whether you plan to open a small market inside your deli. This will have a significant impact on your equipment needs and space requirements. 

Additionally, delis can require multiple permits — food handler permits, sales licenses, zoning permits, and more — so it’s a good idea to start obtaining licenses early.

5. How much does it cost to start a delicatessen?

According to FreshBooks, the median price to open a restaurant is $450 per square foot, including all expenses. 

Many eateries fall under the “deli” umbrella, from small counter-only stands to sprawling sit-down restaurants with booths and entire waitstaff. Because of this, the price per square foot varies considerably based on factors like the size and location, the quality and type of equipment, and the number of staff. Purchasing or leasing an existing deli is one way to keep costs down.

6. Most popular types of delicatessens

Even though delis hail from Germany, they are considered a distinctly American tradition, and people turn to them for familiar favorites. 

People cherish the classic deli for a feeling of nostalgia as much as for the low prices. The most popular delis capture a “lost in time” feel and capitalize on tried-and-true recipes handed down through generations. 

The ingredients, however, are not lost in time. These days, diners are more accustomed to impeccable quality, and delis are raising the bar with meat from local pastures, organic ingredients, and modern touches. 

A new generation of delicatessens is adding gourmet touches to their sandwiches. Still, there will always be demand for the classic deli experience with quick service and tried-and-true flavors.

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