Real estate prices are driving out the great Jewish delis
A common rap against the Los Angeles food scene is that there aren’t any good bagels—at least compared to New York, where in-the-know locals like to brag that the tap water contains only small traces of calcium, which gives bread a bitter taste. Putting aside environmental factors, though, a big reason Los Angeles residents can’t find a good schmear is because their Jewish delis are shuttering at a rapid rate. The latest establishment to bite the bagel is the Woodland Hills location of Jerry’s Famous Deli, which served its last slice of lox this past Sunday. It had been clogging arteries in the neighborhood since 1973.
The Times’ California Today columnist Mike McPhate reports that Jerry’s Famous closed primarily because of—you guessed it!—rising rents. “At some point, what am I going to do? Sell a sandwich for $30?” Ami Saffron, the restaurant’s executive vice president, told McPhate. “That’s not going to happen.” The increasing popularity of Chipotle and other fast casual restaurants, McPhate reports, may be to blame for the disappearance of L.A. delis, as well. (I am happy to spread that blame.)
Los Angeles residents can at least rest assured that Langer’s, that classic eatery whose pastrami Nora Ephron once extolled in The New Yorker, is there to stay—for now. Aside from Langer’s, the two-year-old Wexler’s offers a kind of artisanal slant on classic Jewish cuisine. Wexler’s is part of a small but growing group of new restaurants across the country—including Frankel’s in Brooklyn, Wise Sons in San Francisco, General Muir in Atlanta and Matt Fern’s upcoming deli in Raleigh—updating the Jewish deli menu to meet modern tastes.
It isn’t a huge trend. There are approximately 150 Jewish delis across North America; in the 1930s, there were about 1,500 in New York alone. Those days are long gone, but the recent revival of deli food gives me hope that Jewish cuisine, as a whole, won’t meet the same fate as Jerry’s.