Where did Chicago's Jewish delis go? How the next generation is keeping traditions alive

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone and Maggie Green WLS logo
Monday, May 29, 2023
How a new generation is keeping the Jewish deli alive
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Looking for a Jewish deli in Chicago? They're harder to find, but Steingold's in Lakeview has put a modern twist on old traditions to keep them alive.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Jewish delis are known for matzo ball soup and sandwiches piled high with lots of meat. But the cost of different meats is one reason there are not as many delis around anymore.

The ABC7 I-Team visited a modern deli to find out how people are saving Jewish delis.

The meat is cooking and sandwiches are being stacked at Steingold's of Chicago in Lakeview. And don't forget the bagels.

"The dough gets mixed in this mixer that's about the size of me, it's a big mixer. A big mixer, to do big batches of dough in there," said Maddi Keaton, a manager at Steingold's.

Steingold's managers and workers describe the deli as rule-breaking and innovative.

"A little bit of a modern take," Keaton said.

The owner, Aaron Steingold, opened this location in 2021.

"Most of our food is made from scratch in the house. A lot of delis, you know, open packets slice it. We actually make it with our recipes," he said.

The business is defying the odds, opening and thriving as the number Jewish delis is on the decline.

"The disappearance of Jewish delis is everywhere all over the world. Once upon a time there were thousands, and now we could sort of count just a few 100," said David Sax, author of "Save the Deli."

Sax said to understand the deli decline, you have to look at the meat.

"Selling a giant meat sandwich, which was once a really inexpensive thing, became much more expensive over the years," Sax said.

Sax said consumers don't want to pay $20 - $25 for a sandwich, even with a large pile of meat. He also said low calorie trends may have hurt delis over the years.

"It was created and fed by generation after generation of Jews from Eastern Europe, who came kind of from the end of the nineteenth century until the Holocaust," he explained. "There's no more pool of Jewish cooks and potential deli owners who are living in Eastern Europe right now, that can come in great numbers and open up a restaurant."

Sax said delis like Steingold's are making a comeback by offering a modern take on traditional food, still bursting with flavor.

"As more modern management techniques and kitchen management techniques have been applied, it's just another type of restaurant that you have to apply food cost management principles to, and as long as you keep your costs in line, they can be successful," said Steingold.

Steingold said other modern delis are also opening as the business model changes with the times. Bottom line is as long as someone is making good food, there will be consumers to buy it and eat it.