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“I walked in, and there was this warm electric fusion going through my body,” Barnath said, likening it to the Kotel of delis.
Ben and Izzy’s is a classic delicatessen, complete with a butcher-block counter and black-and-white floor tiles. It seats 28, and all the meats are made from scratch by Venasio. There is barrel-cured corned beef and pickled tongue, navel pastrami (a rarity in Canada) and a Montreal smoked meat made with a spice mix Venasio’s been perfecting for the past five years; it’s juicy, powerfully flavorful and every bit as good as the meat from the nonkosher roots delis he and Venasio hope to emulate.
There are gorgeously marbled rib-eye steaks, matzo ball and mushroom soups, coleslaw, potato salad, double-fried French fries and, naturally, cholent, all made with beef that they specifically import from Texas, because it’s the highest-quality kosher product they’ve found.
What you won’t find are the types of concessions to mass marketing that most kosher delis have surrendered to: wraps, salads, crappy Chinese food or other diversions. “I’d sooner close down than put sushi on the menu,” Barnath said.
The two believe that Ben & Izzy’s can succeed precisely because of their DIY approach. Barnath is a certified mashgiach, so he won’t need to employ one full time, and Venasio has calculated that it’s far cheaper to make your own kosher deli meat than to buy it from someone else.
An eight-ounce sandwich will cost around $10, a price they feel will appeal not only to their kosher clientele, but also to secular Jews and gentiles, who they predict will make up the bulk of customers.
In Austin, Texas, where Dave Rosen will open Mastman’s Kosher Delicatessen this summer, kosher Jews are just a sliver of the expected diners. The city’s entire Jewish population, hovering close to 17,000, is less than one-tenth of Toronto’s, but Rosen doesn’t imagine he’ll have any problem filling the 216 seats at his downtown delicatessen, a rebirth of his grandparent’s kosher deli in Buffalo, N.Y., which closed down in 2005.
“If I’m going to continue on with the family name, it’s very important that it’s kosher,” said Rosen, also 38, who owns a successful stage lighting company.