Katz’s deli survived the 1918 pandemic. Now, it is navigating Covid

Katz’s Delicatessen in New York City has been around for more than a centuryand matures into an iconic institution on the Lower East Side.

Owner Jake Dell told CNBC on Friday he was feeling the weight of the family history as he tried to cope with the uncertainty and disruption created by the Coronavirus pandemic.

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

For this pandemic that has devastated the restaurant industry, Dell said it uses a “make-it-up-as-you-go” approach.

“Make the best decision we can make right now without losing touch with the nostalgia and tradition that really lies at the heart of Katz,” said Dell, a fifth generation owner.

While the pandemic is not over yet, Dell said the lessons Katz has learned over the past 11 months will help the delicatessen business thrive in the decades to come, such as website development. Strategic decisions Katz made in the years leading up to the coronavirus crisis helped keep her afloat, too, he said.

Dell’s comments came as limited indoor dining in New York restaurants set for recovery after Governor Andrew Cuomo suspended it indefinitely in mid-December. Some health professionals have questioned the timingciting new coronavirus variants believed to be more communicable. But for many in the city’s gastronomy, the resumption of eating is indoors to be cheered on as a much needed way to increase revenue in bitter winter.

Katz’s will have about 17 or 18 tables available to meet the 25% capacity limit, Dell said. The deli will revert to the health protocols it used in the fall when the city allowed indoor eating, he said.

Dell acknowledged Katz’s lucky because the size of the dining room makes the capacity 25% more sustainable than smaller restaurants. From a business perspective, most restaurants find it difficult to get by with just a quarter of the tables available, Dell said.

Katz’s Delicatessen will remain open for takeaway during the coronavirus pandemic on May 7, 2020 in New York City.

Ben Gabbe | Getty Images

Digital presence

“One thing that we really focused on was our website and our focus on bringing the customer experience to your door, the real Katz experience. You can’t make it to the Lower East Side. How do we bring it to you ? ” said Dell, who came to the restaurant in 2009. His father Alan was involved before him.

Fortunately, Katz’s experience of shipping groceries to the United States dates back to World War II, when the slogan “Send your boy in the army a salami,” said Dell. But when the pandemic hit last spring and brought New York tourism to a standstill and indoor dining shut down, Katz’s really needed to expand its logistics operation.

That meant training some staff, like dishwashers, on how to properly package mustard, pickles and knives so that the groceries can be shipped across the country, Dell said. “And that has grown enormously and we really hope it will continue when everything is back to normal.”

Regarding local delivery, Dell said Katz built its own network a few years ago to avoid paying third-party vendors like “a monstrous” fee With the Dash and About Eats. “We just bit the bullet and built a giant [delivery] Factory a few years ago and it paid off, “said Dell.” We were lucky. We didn’t fire anyone during this pandemic, and I’m pretty grateful for that. “

Katz received a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program valued at $ 1 to 2 millionAccording to a database compiled by the nonprofit journalist website ProPublica. The loan was approved on May 3rd and has helped save 143 jobs, the database shows.

When asked why Dell struggled to keep Katz open in the depths of the pandemic, he said, “Because you have to. You lower your head and move forward. You make a choice at a time.”

“When the pandemic started, we immediately started distributing soups to … low-income and senior neighborhood buildings. We have, I believe, distributed about 30,000 meals to over 30 hospitals in all five counties. Line workers,” added Dell added, saying Katz felt obliged to help as a family-run company. “The community takes care of you. You have to take care of them when they are in need.”