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Kenny & Ziggy’s works to save American delis

July 30, 2018

Delicatessens across the nation have been closing down in large numbers in recent years, but one Houston deli owner is working to change that through his National Deli Month.

During the month of August, Houston-area diners can enjoy classic delicatessen meals from a special prix fixe menu at Kenny & Ziggy’s New York Delicatessen & Restaurant, and the restaurant will donate 10 percent of those sales to Holocaust Museum Houston.

The three-course meals cost $38 plus tax and gratuity. As a bonus, each person purchasing a meal from the menu will receive a ticket good for two entries to the museum’s temporary location at 220 Kirby Drive, Suite 100.

Kenny & Ziggy’s Owner Ziggy Gruber started National Deli Month in 2016 as a way to promote American delis while allowing them to give back to nonprofit organizations in the communities they serve. He said he expects about 30 delis to participate nationally this year.

The idea for the event came when Gruber and his father appeared in the 2015 documentary “Deli Man” that interviewed deli owners from all over the United States.

“The point of it was how these old traditional delis were closing at an alarming rate,” Gruber said. “So I talked to a lot of these guys and said, ‘Let’s do a month where we bring some attention to what is going on and at the same time, remind people what delis are all about and how unique they are.’”

Gruber said several of the delis that participated in the first event in 2016 have since closed, including 67-year-old Time Deli in San Jose, Calif.; Carnegie Deli, which opened in New York City in 1937; and Ben’s Best in New York, which collaborated on National Deli Month in years past but will shut its doors by the time this year’s event starts.

The founders of the delicatessens came from different backgrounds, but Gruber said they helped to forge a part of American culture as they built relationships with their customers.

“The original delis were opened by immigrants who brought their various cultures, tastes and culinary knowledge, as basic as it may have been, to a new world,” Gruber said. “These delis became gathering places. Business got done, families bonded, gossip was exchanged, and in the end, these places were the heart and social centers of communities.”

Gruber has a long heritage in the deli business: in 1927, his grandfather opened New York’s first Jewish deli on Broadway. The original Kenny & Ziggy’s location opened in 1999 across from The Galleria at 2327 Post Oak and has been serving up deli eats in large portions ever since.

“We’re known for our huge sandwiches [and] our hot plates. We serve a lot of Eastern European dishes, which is the part of the world my grandfather and all his ancestors were from. We also have breakfast - huge breakfasts - and desserts,” Gruber said.

By the time Gruber’s partner Kenny Friedman left the business several years after its founding, Gruber said the deli was doing so well that he decided to keep the name the way it it was.

The second location opened in 2016 near West University Place at 5172 Buffalo Speedway and Westpark.

Gruber said he is proud of how the food his restaurants offer is all prepared fresh, from the corned beef that is cured in house to the smoked fish that is selected in New York, overnighted to Houston and then sliced by five certified master slicers.

When the Gruber heard last year that Holocaust Museum Houston was going to be expanding (the largest project in its history), he said selecting it as his National Deli Month nonprofit felt like a natural fit. This is the second year the event will benefit the museum.

Dr. Kelly J. Zúñiga, Holocaust Museum Houston chief executive officer said the museum was started in 1996 by Holocaust survivors living in the Houston area and is “dedicated to educating people about the Holocaust, remembering the 6 million Jews and other innocent victims and honoring the survivors’ legacy.”

The funds raised from National Deli Month will benefit the museum’s educational programming, which Zúñiga said helps students learn about the Holocaust and provides training for teachers.

A new permanent location for Holocaust Museum Houston is currently under construction and will double the size of the original facility. It is slated to open in June 2019.

Zúñiga said events and fundraisers like National Deli Month help the museum continue its work and also affirm that its mission is important to the Houston community.

“We are incredibly grateful to Ziggy not only for his generosity, but for his leadership with National Deli Month, which benefits community organizations across the country,” Zúñiga said.

Gruber said his regular customers are excited about the event for the good value it offers and the opportunity to support the museum. He said those who have not dined at Kenny & Ziggy’s before should use August to check out the deli for the first time.

“Our menu is as true as it can be, and, you know, the Kenny & Ziggy’s family will never be big enough,” Gruber said.

tracy.maness@hcnonline.com

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