A midtown Manhattan institution is entering its last few months, with crowds of people figuring to jam Carnegie Deli every day before it closes for good at the end of 2016. Even though there are two licensed versions of the restaurant that will remain open, the original that first opened in 1937 will shut its doors for reasons that really have nothing to do with the quality of the food served.
Marian Harper Levine, the 65-year-old owner, is claiming fatigue when asked why she was closing the restaurant. Since she owns the building and has no interest in selling it to many interested buyers, there are really no options for someone to simply take over daily operations.
One of the criticisms of the Deli is that it’s been surviving on its reputation for the past few decades, with plenty of visiting tourists to pick up the slack on any local dropoff. The problem locally is that awareness among the growing millennial population appears to have dropped off considerably. That type of demographic component may have been seen as a litmus test for success down the road. Finally, increased prices have also been cited by some, yet the overall quality of the food remains.
People in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and Las Vegas, the two locations that remain open, will still be able to sample some of those classic foods. These include one-pound sandwiches made up of either corned beef, pastrami or a variety of other meats. A number of Jewish foods have helped ingrain the restaurant in the American psyche, including potato pancakes, lox, chopped chicken livers and matzoh ball soup.
One of the restaurant’s marketing lines is that they’ve made a mistake if a customer can finish such sandwiches. The cheesecake pieces would also fit into the mammoth category, tipping the scales at a full pound.
Meanwhile, one other marketing gimmick tends to be more performance art that connected to culinary aspects. The restaurant’s waiters that are dressed up as if going to a wedding deliberately offer an abrasive approach to all those tourists, who fully expect it.
After eighty years as a New York institution, the Carnegie Deli is set to close at the end of the year. The restaurant’s massive sandwiches and authentic atmosphere made it a part of the fabric of the city, so much so that many New Yorkers took it for granted. Until now, when its impending closure has made many residents wax nostalgic.
These days, despite being a foodie Mecca for so many years, the Carnegie Deli has become more of a tourist trap than a New York City staple. The midtown location, lines of people out the door, crowded atmosphere, huge portions, and loud staff now seem more geared toward tourists who want a cartoon version of a Jewish New York deli than a place for real New Yorkers to fulfill their pastrami cravings. The Carnegie Deli started its downfall a few years ago when scandals like the owners’ divorce, illegal gas siphoning, increasing pries, and decreasing food quality rocked headlines and city gossip.
Even so, natives and transplants alike admit they will miss the deli when it is gone. Many New Yorkers agree that shutting down iconic pieces of New York culture like the Carnegie Deli in the name of progress are killing “the soul of this great dining city.” Though the deli ended up becoming “an exhibition” that “wouldn’t have been out of place in Epcot Center,” it is “a place that represents the identity of who we are as New Yorkers.” We have to decide if preserving pieces of culture like these is more important than setting up a shop featuring the next big food trend.