JOHN YANG: Finally tonight, another in our “Brief But Spectacular” series where we ask. Tonight, we hear from Steve Cohen, owner of New York’s Second Avenue Deli, who gives us his take on the pastrami, sliced thin with the side of schmoozing.
STEVE COHEN: You meet people in the deli, and it’s like you’re their best friend. I started here in 1981, right before Passover.
My favorite part of the job is meeting people, talking to people. I like to schmooze. I have people that came in as customers and now they are friends, I go to their weddings, I go to their Bat Mitzvahs, unfortunately I go to their deaths
You know it’s a good business from a social standpoint. As a business, it’s a little difficult the kosher deli business the food cost is quite large. Nobody has to throw a benefit for us, but it is a fact, we have vats and vats of beef. It’s briskets, we have roast beefs so we have pastramis, so they have to be steamed properly, they have to be kept properly. So it’s just a little more difficult to run and to make money to tell you the truth.
There’s a lot of exclusive restaurants in New York that shall remain nameless, and you go to those restaurants and you say look what I have, look what I can do. You come to a deli and you say, look what we have, look what we can do. We’re all part of the group and we’re all friends, and they talk and it’s the great equalizer.
You come to New York and one of the reasons is pastrami or deli. We have matzo ball soup, we have fresh stock pot going. Our pastrami is mouth watering, just sliced thin. It’s a mechaye, which is a gift.
We have something called ptcha, which is pickled calves’ feet and garlic. We have kasha varnishkes and egg barley which is a pasta dish, it’s like a k ration, but it tastes good. We have derma, which is stuffed derma kishke, when I see people eating kishke here, I say, “When’s the last time you ate a kishke?” and they’ll say, “30, 40 years ago.”
And they’re right, after a meal like this, you’re really quite full, but you really feel satisfied. You felt like you had something and you connected with the past somewhat. I have children and grandchildren I really don’t envy them getting up and growing up in this day and age. It’s very difficult. Now you just feel it’s nice to just relax and schmooze and talk to people, and get their thoughts. Not so much political, but otherwise.
My name is Steve Cohen and this is my Brief but Spectacular take on schmoozing at the deli.