HOBBY’S DELICATESSEN & RESTAURANT in downtown Newark may have lost much of its more traditional clientele over the years, but it has held on to tradition. The corned beef and the tongue are cured for 14 days in stainless steel bins in the basement. The salamis hanging on the wall look as if they’ve been drying there, their flavor intensifying, since the Brummer family bought the place in 1962.Samuel Brummer and his sons, Michael and Marc, even make their own matzo ball soup and potato pancakes.
But in Newark, as in so many cities, holding on has been tough for delis.
“In 1945, there were 12 delis in Newark,” said Samuel Brummer, 86. “Now we are only two.”
Old customers moved on, but new ones keep them going.
“Our clientele used to be 10 percent black and 75 percent Jewish,” he said. “Now it is 50/50.”
David Sax, a 30-year-old freelance writer, listened and nodded. Many delis are seeing more African-American customers.
“In many ways, deli owners in places like Detroit or Chicago have told me, they are better deli clients than Jews,” Mr. Sax said referring to African-Americans. “They accept it as it is. Take a corned beef sandwich. A Jewish customer will say, ‘I want the corned beef lean, from the middle of the brisket,’ because their grandfathers did. It’s like Jews going to a Chinese restaurant. They love it for what it is and they are better clients because of it.”
When Eastern European Jews began immigrating to New York by the thousands in the late 19th century, they found delicatessens started by gentile German immigrants who had brought their pickled and smoked pork and beef to the United States.
“Jews made the deli their own and carved out a niche for themselves,” Mr. Sax said.
Jewish delis began to predominate. By the 1930s, New York City alone had at least 1,500 kosher and kosher style, Mr. Sax said. Today there about two dozen kosher ones left.