Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Deli-Dali Delicatessen and 2/12/1970…..by Robert M. Katzman

Updated St. Patrick’s Day, 2013

Lincoln’s birthday.

On this day, in 1970, my father, Israel, and I met with the Baird and Warner property manager of the shopping center at 51st and Lake Park, in Hyde Park, on Chicago’s South Side. A giant Whole Foods store completely covers that site as of today. So use your imagination to see all I describe above, ok?

Forty-three years ago, I was 19, and my father was 57.

That morning, we were about to sign a lease to open the Deli-Dali Delicatessen, but legally, I was still too young to sign any lease. So, my father signed it for me. Nevertheless, I would own the Deli. He was to be the manager of the new business, which was about 200 yards away from my original newsstand, closer to the actual corner of the shopping center. My Uncle Ziggy would also work there as an employee. It was a happy day. We were hopeful and saw the future as a bright one for us.

This was ironic, because just 13 months earlier, I had unexpectantly undergone salivary gland cancer surgery at St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, Ill. and had the left side of my jaw removed by a Dr. Danely Slaughter. Nobody talked about “the future” in front of me.

I noticed that. In my otherworldly future were to be a total of 37 operations and transplants. Maybe better not to know your own future. Sometimes I feel like Death is waving at me from a distance. But I can’t quite tell how far the guy is.  So I don’t put things off.

I had attended the University of Illinois, at The Chicago Circle (now called UIC) as a freshman beginning in September, 1968. I would end up dropping out after September 1969, with the assumption that without a complete jaw, the US Army wouldn’t want me for Viet Nam, which is exactly what happened. But I had to wait until December 20, 1969 to be sure about that.

I would eventually receive four classifications from the government: 2-s when I was 18 in April 1968; 1-A when I dropped out of college at 19 September 1969; 1-Y when the army rejected me; and sometime later, years later, a 4-F classification just before the Viet Nam War was declared over on April 30, 1975, which happened to be my 25th birthday. No one contacted me about the final determination of that last classification or why, but the government sure takes its time deciding things. Thirty days before that, March 30 1975,my first child, Lisa, now the mother of two herself is probably glad I survived my five year rating period. A bit more on Lisa, below.

The Deli opened in mid-June, four months after Lincoln’s birthday. We laid the tile, painted the walls and shopped for used refrigerated display cases on the West Side of Chicago, where all the cavernous old fixture stores were, and where some still remain, today.

I also apprenticed at the Sinai 48 kosher meats factory in the meatpacking district of Chicago for two weeks, for the sole purpose of learning how to operate, disassemble and clean the razor sharp meat-slicer we were going to purchase from them. It was extremely dangerous work.

I also learned the rhythm of letting the sliced corned beef fall into my hand and then flipping it over to make a nice neat mound and then be ready for the next slice to fall. I learned how to adjust the thickness of the slices and also how to use every single bit of the meat I was slicing to eliminate any possibility of waste. It was an art. Also unnerving to me to notice that all of the old timers surrounding me at Sinai 48 were missing one of more parts of their fingers on their left hand.

Although daunting at first, I learned that assembling the components of a fancy Lazy Susan tray was as simple as neatly arranging overlapping different kinds of meats, alternating their colors on a stiff pizza cardboard tray wrapped in a large sheet of aluminum. Some chopped liver in a small container in the middle of the tray and them some lettuce tucked under the meat, all around and it was done.

If people learned to do this for themselves, they’d save a lot of money. Be careful with that slicer, though…

We hired experienced deli people, hung the long wrinkled salamis on steel hooks, bought a sign, set up a steam table, made contact with the kosher suppliers of everything we needed, and Edward Don & Co. for every kind of supply any business might need, such as wax paper, paper plates, plastic forks and so on. Then we found a heavy old metal cash register and a legal scale. I wrote all the ads and illustrated them, too.

I’d written ads with cartoons to neighborhood merchants for my high school newspaper, so for me, writing advertising for the Deli was just doing more of the same thing. Except this time, I took out full pages in the local press.

The entire cost of opening that store was $8,501.00. I had that much saved up, in cash, from my newspaper stand earnings, and we paid for every single thing we needed as we went along. That amount, in 2013 dollars, is approximately $52,000. We opened with no debt. Zero. The Deli made money the first day it opened and every day after that. We made a lot of Lazy Susan party trays, especially for members of the local Daley political machine and we sold a ton of nova lox and cream cheese on egg bagels, too.

As a reminder of how young I was then, meaning 20 (since April 30th, six weeks earlier) I raced from the Deli’s grand opening to my girlfriend Barbara’s high school graduation. She was 17, and had long dark brown hair cascading down her back. We later were married for six years, and our daughter Lisa Heather gave birth to our first grandchild, Natalia, on December 3, 2008. Like her mother and grandmother, she too, is beautiful.

But, as things evolved, I discovered that I wasn’t a Deli kinda guy, and I walked out of the place on New Year’s Eve that same year. I gave my Father 50% of the business and sold my Uncle Ziggy the other 50%. They both lasted in that space for seven more years and both of them made a lot of money.

Me?

I ended up making $22,000 for the nine months I was involved with corn beef heaven, which I felt to be a pretty good return on my original $8,501 investment, considering that I knew exactly nothing about the deli business, when I opened it.

So, the world kept turning, as it does, and today I’m 62, five years older than my father was then. He died in May, 2000 at 87 and he would have been 101 this coming September.

My mother, Anne, a talented artist and an interior decorator, whom after I asked her, recommended that we paint the walls mustard color. We did. We found that it blended very well with our steaming mounds of corned beef, brisket and pastrami.

By chance, she had her 49th birthday the very next day, February 13th, 1970; the day after my dad signed the Deli’s lease. She died in August, 2001, at 80 and would have been 92, tomorrow. And now, incredibly, my only sibling, Bonnie Sue, then 22, has also died in 2010 at 62.  On October 22nd 2013, she’d have been 66.  She was a constant visitor to the deli to see our father.  My Uncle Ziggy died young, long before any of my family.

Why tell you this? Who cares? What difference does one day matter over another, anyway?

Well, nobody expected me to live this long. I know that. Not even my doctors, now all dead themselves. I’ll be 63 on April 30th, 2013.  I never dreamed I’d be the last of all of us.  Yeah, I write the stories, but I can’t call up any of them and say,” Hey, do you remember when…?”

I am conscious of every day going by, and that each one is a gift to me. Not everyone has such an acute sense, and appreciation of time, as I do.  So I’m the sole surviving person who was involved in the creation of that fragrant little 750 sq. ft. delicatessen, now closed for decades. If I tell no one, and the 43rd anniversary of it just passes unnoticed, then I feel I am not honoring my mother, father and sister, and what a central part of my life they were, then.

Although I was almost completely estranged from my very erratic and exasperating mother, at that time in 1970, I also think I somehow miss the person I wished she could have been. However, she was unreasonably strange. But also an excellent cook. She made this special dish for me when I would visit her over the years, something called Spanish Tongue. It was roasted tongue on a bed of white rice with a certain kind of tomato dressing over it. Unique, then cooked for a long time in a Pyrex dish until all the flavors blended. I begged her to give me the recipe because I, too, was a cook and wanted the one-of-a-kind exotic flavor preserved. She refused, saying that if she gave me the recipe, I’d never come to see her again. When she died, she took that recipe with her.

I know I live in the past, probably more than other people do, but I find it a very comfortable place to be. Very quiet, too. It’s like an immaculate attic—a one-person museum—where every so often I encounter a door that hasn’t been opened…in years.

Telling people this story, is like my tugging on one of those long forgotten closed doors and briefly letting a bright light shine on all of the memories neatly assembled in there, forever waiting to be remembered, before the time eventually comes when there is no more remembering.

So, Readers, to you and the rest of America, today is Lincoln’s 204th birthday.

To me, it’s the 43rd anniversary of the beginning of the Deli-Dali Delicatessen, and a grand day it was too. We were very happy that day, my father and I.

Thanks for sharing it with me.

Abe won’t mind, I’m sure.

As my father would always say in farewell, in Yiddish:

Sie Gezunt!

Stay healthy!

 

Publishing News! 

Bob Katzman’s two new true Chicago books are now for sale, from him!
Vol. One: A Savage Heart  and Vol. Two: Fighting Words

Gritty, violent, friendship, classic American entrepreneurship love, death, heartbreak and the real dirt about surviving in a completely corrupt major city under the Chicago Machine. More history and about one man’s life than a person may imagine.

Please visit my new website: https://www.dontgoquietlypress.com
If a person doesn’t want to use PayPaI, I also have a PO Box & I ship anywhere in America.

Send me a money order with your return and contact info.
I will get your books to you within ten days.
Here’s complete information on how to buy my books:

Vol 1: A Savage Heart and Vol. 2: Fighting Words
My books weigh almost 2 pounds each, with about 525 pages each and there are a total together of 79 stories and story/poems.

Robert M. Katzman
Don’t Go Quietly Press
PO Box 44287
Racine, Wis. 53404-9998                                                                                                                    (262)752-3333, 8AM–7PM

Books cost $29.95 each, plus shipping

For: (1)$3.95; (2)$5.95; (3)$7.95; (4)$8.95 (5)$9.95;(6) $10.95

(7) $11.95; (8) $12.95; (9)$13.95 (10)$15.95 (15)$19.95

I am also for hire if anyone wants me to read my work and answer questions in the Chicago/Milwaukee area. Schools should call me for quantity discounts for 30 or more books. Also: businesses, bookstores, private organizations or churches and so on.

My Fighting Words Publishing Co. four original books, published between 2004 and 2007 are now out-of-print. I still have some left and will periodically offer them for sale on my new website.

 Twitter handle: bob_katzman

9 Comments »

Comment by Don Larson

February 12, 2009 @ 2:25 pm

Hi Bob,

That’s a very heart-warming story, thanks for writing it.

I got hungry for a kosher hot-corn beef on light rye sandwich as soon as I started reading. Unfortunately, out here where I live they aren’t those kind of great restaurant places like the one you started.

How nice of you to include the mentioning of the birthdays of your parents. May they continue to rest in peace.

I was about to leave college on this date in 1969, I was a failure then in so many ways. The U.S. Selective Service asked me to help them out on Christmas Eve, 1969, bless their hearts.

Next time I’m in Chicago to see you, let’s go have a deli sandwich some place you know that makes them like the good ol’ days.

Have a great day, my friend.

Don

Comment by Bob

February 12, 2009 @ 2:39 pm

Hey, Don,

Both you and Rick Munden both seemed to think that today was my dad’s birthday. I went back and reread the sentence about how old he’d be now, and then realized anyone could think that today, 2/12/09, could be his birthday, because of the flexible nature of English. I fixed it. Rick and you couldn’t BOTH be wrong, of course, so it had to be me.

As far as Deli places? Yeah, I know some, but nothing is now the way it was then. I ate at immigrant Jewish delis, before cholesterol and all those flavor-killing discoveries were made. I miss the food that was “bad” for me, Don.

Thanks for writing to me. Today, I miss my dad very much, wherever he is.

See you,

Bob

Comment by Don Larson

February 12, 2009 @ 2:58 pm

Hi Bob,

Yeah, I miss all that good-tasting food too. I hate the McDonald’s fries after they got rid of trans-fat.

My Dad would have turned 99 on January 31st. He died at age 45 in 1955.

You might think of including a couple pictures of your parents in your story.

Don

Comment by Bill Skeens

February 13, 2009 @ 12:27 am

Hi Bob:

I was there the day the Deli Dali opened. I can still smell the Corn Beef and Rosen Rye Bread. Being a 3-year veteran and “experienced” newsboy at the famous Bob’s Newstand at 51st and Lake Park, I got the chance to also work at the Deli Dali:Cleaning up, making coffee and occasionally making a sandwich or Hot Dog. I never liked getting too close to the slicer. I remember seeing and tasting my first tongue sandwich. Man! Was I fascinated by that looking-like and actually being real cows tongue. Yikes! The tongue’s taste buds always kind of freaked me out. I remember working with your Dad, Irv and your Uncle Ziggy. Ziggy was a real character and wisecracker. Calvin Culpepper and I used to crack up at Ziggy, and your Dad was always kind to us and alway had a gentle way with us.

I remember first finding out what a “Boston” was- Half Cream-Half Coffee. I remember the Hot Dog Steamer for the buns and if you left a hot dog too long in that steamer how it would turn brown and almost soggy versus a kind of “firm” skin that almost crunched. I also learned the difference between hard salami and soft salami. Things I tasted for the first time at the Deli Dali…Tongue Sandwich… Blintz… Liverwurst… Boston Coffee…BIG Kosher pickles…and Tapicoa Pudding.

I also remember learning from you one of the great lessons in life… At the News stand in those days there were a tremendous amount of coins and particularly pennies. I learned how to count money (from the newstand) by “Weighing” the pennies on the Meat Scale. You would put a brown paper on the scale then weigh the pennies vs counting them. I loved it. I have used that as a teaching lesson many times with my kids and people that have worked for me over the years as “a different way of looking at things”.

I’d say.. How many ways can you count a bunch of pennies? Most people would usually get stacking them like poker chips in piles of tens, or rows of coins but few would get “weighing” them, like you did.

I also remember the cops that would come in for Free Coffee and I guess food as well. I do remember always feeling safe cause they were always in and out of there.

Interesting that today is my brothers Chuck (and would have been his twin Bob’s) 60th Birthday on Feb 12th. I guess it was their 20th Birthday the day you opened the deli. I would have been 13. This was about the time Chuck joined the Navy and my brother Bob got his draft notice ironically on Christmas Eve of that year too. Boy I remember how upset my Mom was when that happened as Vietnam in full swing.

Bob.. Happy Anniversary to the Deli-Dali. Warm rememberances of your Dad Irv (and WW2 Army friend of my Dad in the Philipines)and your Uncle Ziggy. Most important warmest wishes to you Bob for adding spice to life whether it be in a Deli… Newsstand… or with your writings.- Bill Skeens

Comment by Bob

February 13, 2009 @ 10:54 am

From Bob Katzman:

Bill, what a wonderful letter!

Not everybody has a witness to their life, like I seem to have. I was actually unaware that you worked there or had all those experiences. I thought Ross Petersen was the only guy from the newsstand to work there. He, unfortunately, did get too close to that wicked slicer. Nasty cut. But, as always, he was very cool and calm about it. I was surprised how nothing seemed to faze him.

This is a good way to remember our special days and the people who inhabited our lives. Happy birthday today to my mom, who would have been 88. Happy birthday to both your brothers, because to you I bet Bob’s still here in spirit.

In case you wondered, that wonderful and somehow eerie “Newsstand Christmas Story”, which only exists because you reminded me of it, somehow, when you came to that Border’s poetry reading, will be reprinted in Fighting Words # 7, maybe in a year or so. Not so far away, hopefully, because # 4 was published last year. I finished # 5 today (if my mother’s floating around watching my progress as a writer, she’s be pleased, I know.)

I see your company’s cookies at the checkouts at different Walgreens all the time. Sometimes…I even buy one and chew on it while seeing you in my memory selling newspapers,long ago now. I’m very proud of you and what you’ve done with your life. Wherever both our parents are, I bet they are too.

Thanks for filling in the blanks in my life, Bill.

Bob

ps–At Manny’s Deli, in Chicago at Roosevelt and Jefferson Streets near UIC you can get delicious roasted tongue with mushroom gravy, thinly sliced. It is a delicasy and you’d love it. Just don’t think about it. And the cow? The cow won’t say anything. Really. : )

Bob

Comment by Will

February 17, 2009 @ 10:03 pm

Bob, thanks for sharing. You have lived more in your 58 years than I think I will in 100.

Comment by Don Larson

February 18, 2009 @ 4:08 pm

Bob,

We don’t live in the past. We live in the present that comprises who we were, who we are now, and, whom we wish to be.

You and I reflect on our past and how that past defines us. There is nothing awkward about it. You and I acknowledge our failures and triumphs publicly and more people should do the same for their own lives. Those that do know the source of strength it gives us.

Thanks for your continued writings.

Don

Comment by Bob

February 18, 2009 @ 4:16 pm

Hey…The Donald!!!

What you wrote is too beautiful to say any more about it, specifically.

Thank you, Don.

The day was kinda moving for me and I felt I had to do something, you know? I feel better about it now.

Comment by Don Larson

February 19, 2009 @ 10:37 am

Hi Bob,

You are very welcome. I’m using part of what I said as my email signature and linking back to this page in it.

Don

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