Katz’s deli survived the 1918 pandemic. Now it’s Covid navigation

Katz’s Delicatessen in New York a has been around for over a century, becoming an emblematic institution of the Lower East Side.

Owner Jake Dell told CNBC on Friday he feels the weight of family history as he seeks to overcome the uncertainty and disruption caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.

“This is our second pandemic, technically, for Katz. This is my first,” Dell said on “Squawk in the street,” With reference to 1918 flu pandemic. Katz’s, originally founded in 1888, moved to its current location on Houston Street a year before this health crisis began.

For this pandemic, which devastated the restaurant industry, Dell said it was using a “as you go” approach.

“Make the best decision you can in the moment without losing touch with the nostalgia and tradition that is truly at the heart of Katz’s,” said Dell, a fifth generation owner.

While the pandemic is not yet over, Dell said the lessons Katz has learned over the past 11 months will help the grocery store be successful in decades to come, such as website development. The strategic decisions Katz made in the years leading up to the coronavirus crisis also helped keep him afloat, he said.

Dell’s comments came as limited indoor dining at New York City restaurants was ready to resume after Governor Andrew Cuomo suspended him indefinitely in mid-December. Some health experts have questioned the moment, citing new variants of the coronavirus that are said to be more transmissible. But for many in the city’s restaurant industry, the resumption of indoor dining is be acclaimed as an indispensable means of increasing income during the freezing winter.

Katz will have about 17 or 18 tables available to comply with the 25% capacity restriction, Dell said. The deli will revert to the health protocols it used in the fall when the city allowed indoor dining, he said.

Dell acknowledged that Katz’s was lucky because the size of its dining room makes its capacity 25% more durable than that of small restaurants. From a business standpoint, it’s hard for most restaurants to get by with only a quarter of the tables available, Dell said.

Katz’s Delicatessen remains open for take out during the coronavirus pandemic on May 07, 2020 in New York City.

Ben Gabbe | Getty Images

Digital presence

“One thing we focused on was our website and our focus on bringing the customer experience to your doorstep, the true Katz experience. Can’t make it to the Lower East Side, so how do you get it? Said Dell, who joined the restaurant in 2009. His father, Alan, was involved before him.

Fortunately, Katz’s experience shipping food across the United States dates back to World War II, when her slogan “Send your boy a salami in the military” was invented, Dell said. But when the pandemic hit last spring – shattering tourism in New York City to stop and shut down dining inside – Katz really had to step up its logistics operations.

This involved retraining some employees, like dishwashers, on how to properly pack mustard, pickles and knishs so that food could be shipped nationwide, Dell said. “And it has grown tremendously and we really hope it will continue once things get back to normal.”

Regarding local delivery, Dell said Katz’s built its own network a few years ago to avoid having to pay “huge” fees to third-party vendors, such as DoorDash and Uber Eat. “We just bit the bullet and built a giant [delivery] factory a few years ago and it has paid off, ”Dell said. ” We were lucky. We haven’t fired anyone during this pandemic, and I’m quite grateful for that. “

Katz received a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program valued at $ 1 to $ 2 million, according to a database compiled by the nonprofit journalism site ProPublica. The loan was approved on May 3 and saved 143 jobs, according to the database.

When asked why Dell fought to keep Katz open during the height of the pandemic, he replied, “Because you have to. You put your head down and you move on. You make a decision. at a time.”

“When the pandemic started, we immediately started distributing soup to… low-income and senior citizen buildings in the neighborhood. We served, I think, something like 30,000 meals, in the five boroughs, in more. of 30 hospitals front-line workers, ”Dell added, saying Katz felt obligated to help as a family business.“ The community takes care of you. You have to take care of them when they need it. “

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