Before we even sat down for our interview with Jake Dell, the youngest-ever owner of Katz’s Deli, he had one question: “You a pastrami or corned beef kind of girl?” And that’s Jake Dell in a sentence. The man loves his meats.
In fact, Dell was born into it. Back in 1980, Jake’s father and grandfather bought Katz’s from the establishment’s namesake family and have kept it ever since.
So what’s it like to grow up in one of the world’s most well-recognized delis? It’s pretty damn cool. Dell recalled doing almost everything at Katz’s while growing up. “My class would come down here and my father would teach the class how to make pickles,” he said
Positioned in the middle of Katz’s, adjacent from the seemingly endless carving station, is a sign that says “JAKE’S BAR MITZVAH” in green and red neon, because why not, right? (The bar mitzvah’s theme was, yes, deli-centric.)
Still, Dell initially thought his career would be medicine, not deli sandwiches and pickles. But after taking the MCAT and applying to medical school Jake took a gap year, helping out his father and uncle around Katz’s.
He spent the time busing tables, taking tickets, and just working, really. It was then that Jake realized how special Katz’s was to him.
“I fell in love with the place and I fell in love with talking to customers,” he said. It became obvious what he needed to do. “I said ‘what am I doing?’ I’m a deli man.”
Now Dell mans the helm at Katz’s, serving approximately 30,000 pounds of meat and keeping track of all the financials by hand, on real paper. And for all the talk about millennials upending every status quo in society, Jake is firmly committed to keeping Katz’s as is.
“On a personal level, on a business level, however you want to look at it, I’m not changing anything,” he said. Katz’s will remain a squat, chrome-plated and wood-paneled building for the unforeseeable future.
Take a tour of Katz’s with Dell and Fusion’s Jessica Blank for a meat-tastic journey into a New York institution.