Katz’s Delicatessen is giving its customers a breath of fresh air — literally.
For the first time in its 132-year history, the deli, a New York City staple known for its pastrami sandwiches, is adding outdoor seating in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
New York is in Phase 3 of its reopening plan, which permits restaurants to resume serving patrons on-site as long as the seating was outside. Katz’s, which is known for its aisles of seats indoors, had to innovate to comply or continue serving guests solely through take-out and delivery.
Jake Dell, the fifth-generation owner of Katz’s, told CNN Saturday his business has been among the lucky ones throughout the pandemic, keeping all of its staff and their standard hours of work despite schedule changes.
With many people working from home and otherwise not coming to get to-go meals, though, Dell acknowledged the current system wasn’t serving all of his usual customers.
“For some of our customers, doing take out isn’t enough,” Dell said. “For many, take-out or delivery isn’t what they’re used to; they grab it on the way home from work or take it home for lunch, eat in the car. Unfortunately for others, that isn’t the case. I think being able to provide a service, sitting down to eat, is an amazing opportunity to have and we’re immediately thankful for.”
Katz’s is adding seating capacity for between 50 and 70 people at a time on the sidewalk and street around the restaurant on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Dell said. The restaurant went through a trial period last week and is now operating with its outside seating until further notice.
Dell said he served on task forces with the mayor and deputy mayor to help come up with solutions for restaurants during the pandemic.
“We’re very much aware of what’s needed from a public health perspective, but in reality what we’re doing is not that different from what restaurants have always done and do,” he said. “The idea of thorough cleaning and proper hygiene is already ingrained. We continue to do that.”
For those immunocompromised, Dell said he still recommends they stay home and order delivery or takeout. In two weeks or so, he said the deli will launch its own delivery service so customers can order straight from the restaurant, instead of through third-party apps like Caviar, Seamless and UberEats.
With the Covid-19 pandemic changing many aspects of life in New York City, Katz’s has changed with the times. Service employees have been tasked with learning how to package and ship items, which Katz’s has done and continues to serve to all 50 states.
However, Dell said he knows Katz’s is rooted in tradition and has no plans to change what has made the deli a New York City icon. Operating since 1888, non-New Yorkers may know it as the location of the famous “I’ll have what she’s having” scene in the 1989 romantic comedy, “When Harry Met Sally.”
“There’s a really delicate balance between preserving tradition, not changing anything and growing with the times,” he said. “Even updating the bathrooms to be more comfortable for customers is a delicate balance between new and old. Everything I do and we do is preserving that tradition. Maybe we’re making the experience easier to experience, bringing it a little closer to you, making it more convenient. Everything we’re doing, especially now, has been about providing experience to your doorstep.”