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NYC deli food all exactly the same

How is it that all (well, a lot) of the delis in midtown serve the exact same salad, sandwich and steam table food? Are they all owned by the same person? Is there a secret deli overlord? How about all the chexican places that have different names but all serve exactly the same food and have menus with the same font? Secret chexican overlord?

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    1. If you were a businessman(strickly a businessman, not a chef or culinary revolutionalist) to open a deli, what do you think is the safest items you can sell?

      4 Replies
        1. re: Monica

          I also want to add watermelon at buffet table.

          1. re: Monica

            I was going to suggest heroin, until I realised it's more commonly served in pizza parlors.
            (nice profit margin, too -better than coffee and water combined.)

          2. Florists sell flowers. Jewelers sell jewelry. Delis sell sandwiches. What's the problem here?

            1. Are there particular things you're wanting that they don't have?

              1. One huge interconnected subterranean kitchen!!!

                1 Reply
                1. re: Motosport

                  That is the Indians on East 6th Street.

                2. As far as steamtable: Some stuff IS factory premade if it's a really high volume place (Stouffers for example), but I've never seen every single thing the same. Variations on a theme, maybe. The cold cuts, well that's always been standardized. What is it you're searching for that you can't find?

                  South American (is that what you mean by Chexican?) seems to be a lot more of homemade dishes, at least where I live.

                  32 Replies
                    1. re: c oliver

                      Do you mean "What is Stouffers?" You can find it in the grocery frozen aisle in retail size, and big trays of the same are available wholesale. Mac and cheese, and vegetable lasagna are two examples.

                      1. re: coll

                        Oh, THAT Stouffers? I though OP was talking about restaurants. I just Googled and "Chexican" is Chinese-Mexican.

                          1. re: coll

                            Right. Delis in midtown Manhattan. What does Stouffers have to do with that? I'm not making the connection.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              That delis use premade items like Stouffer product in their steam tables.

                              1. re: coll

                                Steam tables? I've been to a number of NYC delis but have never seen a steam table. What's on them?

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  It's what they call the trays of hot food behind the glass, under the counter.

                                  1. re: coll

                                    I understand but I've not seen them in any of the NYC delis I've been to. Will check when I'm there next month.

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      Uh- don't your time.... They're like the hot bar at whole foods, found in lots of the generic corner deli/bodega/convenience store. Generally speaking not worth eating at one on a trip here. No, wait, i'm wrong- the salad bar/hot bar at city bakery for lunch is good. But kinda pricey.

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        That's really curious. I've seen those steam tables smack-dab in the middle of pretty much every single deli I've entered in the city. All kinds of hot foods & veggies and salads, etc...

                                        Maybe it's more of a midtown/downtown thing, as I rarely ever venture past 52nd St.

                                        1. re: linguafood

                                          I'll have to pay more attention. The thought of going to a great deli and getting Stouffers anything is rather offputting :) Maybe I haven't noticed them cause that's not what I'm there for.

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            May be terminology: I think OP is referring to common sandwich joints, not *real* delicatessens like Katz or Carnegie.

                                            1. re: mwhitmore

                                              I REALLY appreciate your comment. If that's the case, then I withdraw from the discussion cause I have even less knowledge that I thought i did :)

                                              1. re: mwhitmore

                                                Oh, durr. That would explain the massive confusion :-D

                                                1. re: linguafood

                                                  Deli vs delicatessen. Deli is the equivalent of a fast food joint, and not dissing them since I worked at one long enough.

                                                  1. re: coll

                                                    Yeah, I know. I knew the whole time what we were talking about '-D

                                                    1. re: linguafood

                                                      You AND I! didn't realize there'd be confusion.

                                                      1. re: coll

                                                        I think it's a demographic thing.

                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                          OK, now I am officially confused -- "demographic thing?"


                                                          1. re: linguafood

                                                            I think I might have figured out the answer, since you were suggesting demographics....

                                                            Tourists tend to gravitate to the famous Delicatessen to which you were referring: like Katz's, Carnegie, Barney Greengrass, etc. etc.

                                                            People who actually *live* in the city or are there on a more regular basis know DELIS to be the place on the corner where you can purchase pretty much anything you want, ranging from your work lunch like salads, sandwiches and all kinds of prepared foods (this is where the aforementioned steam tables come into play) to flowers, cookies, chocolates, ice cream and possibly some non-food items like cigarettes until fairly late at night.

                                                            *That* is the kind of deli we were talking about, and now I understand what you were trying to say about demographics.

                                                            Most tourists likely wouldn't know they'd been to a deli even if they bought a bottle of water there.

                                                            1. re: linguafood

                                                              Actually I call places like Barney Greengrass an appetizing store. But I'm with you on the restaurants, steam tables and cornerstores selling popsicles, cigarettes and condoms. "Delis" are one of the rare places where you can wrap your meat in rye bread, wax paper or latex.

                                                              1. re: JungMann

                                                                I was definitely thinking of places to buy meats.

                          2. re: c oliver

                            Stouffers used to be a chain, maybe based in Chicago. The frozen stuff was originally designed on what they served there.

                            1. re: mwhitmore

                              At one time, they were based in Westchester NY or thereabouts. At least the corporate headquarters, which is where they developed their frozen line. I knew a chef who worked there, doing just that.

                              1. re: coll

                                their main frozen food plant has been in Cleveland for at least 35 years. my mom worked at a company right next door, and used to bring home deeply discounted packages of "mistakes" -- mostly box misprints, discontinued items or even mis-"filings" (like turkey tetrazzini in spinach soufflé boxes).

                              2. re: mwhitmore

                                Stauffer's was once well-known for its "Top of" places in Boston, Chicago and NYC. In Manhattan it was the "Top of the Sixes" at 666 5th Ave, Tishman Building at 52nd. They also figured in "How to Succeed" song "Well it's Been a Long Day."

                                1. re: hazelhurst

                                  Wow so much I didn't know about their history, thanks! I remember hearing of Top of the Sixes, it seemed to be a swell place.

                                  1. re: coll

                                    I don't think anyone---least of all my father--would have said it was "good" but it WAS an "occasion." We went their before sailing to Europe in the 1960s and the food was probably a good warm-up for the Holland-America line. The view of Central Park..and ESB etc was good. I remember it still.

                                    1. re: hazelhurst

                                      Yeah still lots of places like that. Hard to get good food AND a great site or view.

                                  2. re: hazelhurst

                                    I remember Top of the 6's. Great view to drink by. Never ate there, but the Alitalia cafeteria on a lower floor was cheap and filling.

                                    1. re: GoodGravy

                                      You missed nothing by not eating there..maybe missed something by not Being There but these moments are evanescent. Someone who was there prior to me knows I didn't see the real place, But is you recall the old lower florors then I think you have the right idea and don't need to have gone up there. It is like walking through the PanAm today and seeing what happened to the "dream." It is pleasing to remember, as Virgil said.

                            2. Most large delis with buffet have their own kitchen with their own cooks. To cut cost, I highly doubt they use premade factory stuff which can be more expensive than making it from scratch)

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: Monica

                                Doubt all you want, I used to sell items like that to delis all day long. They can make plenty from scratch but at some point, if they're really busy (hopefully), they need something as backup. And costwise, if you add in labor, it usually comes out the same or cheaper (just the salesman in me talking, but true nonetheless!)

                                1. re: coll

                                  What were some of the things that you sold them and some they made inhouse?

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    Vegetable lasagna was definitely top seller, who wants to be bothered? Mac and cheese, they would add all the ends to make it even cheesier. If they were ethnic, stuffed peppers and stuffed cabbage were big. In house, you can usually tell, mostly made with chop meat or leftover cold cuts.

                                    1. re: coll

                                      I forgot to add, the soups are now frequently bought pre-made too, especially if they offer a large variety. There may be one or two made in house, something simple like chicken noodle or vegetable, plus they may stretch or jazz up the others, but if you see something like Italian Wedding you can be pretty sure they didn't make it themselves.

                              2. Not just NY deli food

                                In Southern California, in the 90s almost all donut shops had ties to one guy

                                Chinese restaurant menu from the cabin and a Chinese restaurant menu from close to home use very similar menus, the items under pork are the same in the same order

                                Maybe it is similar to contracts, employee handbooks, they vary from boilerplate to template

                                You will get distractors because the regulars on CH don't suffer ranters

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Alan408

                                  I think you mean "detractors" but that's okay because the regulars on CH do suffer that.

                                  I disagree however that ranters aren't tolerated. It all depends on what they rant about and how long they've been around and how much they generally share the mindset of others. Plenty of the regular CH crowd rants regularly without attracting any negative feedback.

                                  All that said, I share other posters sense of mystery as to why the original poster is shocked SHOCKED to find in NYC that there is a big market for standardized food. I guess the trick is to do like Danny Meyer and trick people into thinking it is super special (that way you can charge a lot more throughout the chain).

                                2. Once upon a time, there were a string of restaurants running up Broadway above 72nd that were known as 'chino-latino'. In my hungry student days, they represented one of the best culinary deals in town (generous cups of fresh-squeezed orange juice included). I can't imagine they were managed centrally.

                                  I understand 'chexican' is a neologism like any other, but it sits uneasily with me -as though it came out of some frightened, gated place in Maricopa County.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: Phil Ogelos

                                    Yeah I never heard it used myself, at least not around here. Most Spanish delis aren't Mexican anyway, rather Central or South American.

                                    1. re: coll

                                      There are actually restaurants that serve the two cuisines? Or does it mean "owned by chinese, serving mexican"?

                                      1. re: sal_acid

                                        There are tons of Chinese/Latin/Spanish spots on the UWS. They aren't fusion, but instead offer traditional versions of both cuisines, i.e. orange chicken in one part of the menu and ropa vieja in another.

                                        1. re: JeffOverley

                                          There used to be tons of them there, now there are only grams.

                                          (But yes, sal, the chino-latino places serve both cuisines.
                                          And, @MV, the real ChiLa places don't cook hybrid dishes -whatever they might be- but unadulterated (OK, relatively) Latin or Chinese, from opposite sides of the menu. I've never encountered one of the 'Chexican' places you refer to.)

                                    2. re: Phil Ogelos

                                      The places the original poster referred to as Chexican are Chinese owned/run "fresh tortilla" places serving crappy "Mexican" food. These are different than the UWS places you refer to which were serving more of a Dominican/Chinese hybrid food.

                                      I have never heard the term Chexican

                                    3. This is why I love Treehaus...different menu than most deli.
                                      Currently eating their braised oxtail and blackened cod..grilled fennel, mushroom lasagna.

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: Monica

                                        And it's why I love Woorijip, and they're cheaper than NYC delis / bodegas.

                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                          Both Treehaus and Woorijip look so good. Thanks.

                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                            though I must say it comes with a price. I don't ever remember leaving Treehaus without paying at least $20.

                                            1. re: Monica

                                              Well, to put these in perspective, it is Midtown, it is above-average, it is quick, and it is convenient. So add those all up and $20 ain't too bad.

                                              I mean you could go to Starbucks and get whatever deli-type creation is in their cold case, a fruit or yogurt cup, a caffeinated beverage and easily walk out there $15 lighter in the credit card, before tip.

                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                I think the most likely reason is because I get too greedy when I am standing infront of the buffet tables. a bit of this, a bit of that....i always get more food than I need..

                                                1. re: Monica

                                                  Who can resist purple mashed potatoes!

                                        2. In 'Taste of America' (in the 1970s or 80s) the authors claimed that most of the pastrami, and many of the cold salads (e.g. potato) served in delis came from the same commercial suppliers.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: paulj

                                            There are several; not hundreds of them but by no means a monopoly.

                                          2. I did not expect to get so many responses...

                                            By chexican I mean the cheap places like "tortilla plus" where half the menu is Mexican food and half is Chinese. When i moved here I only knew 1 guy from the city and that's what he called them so I apologize if that is somehow an offensive term.

                                            And by steam table i mean hot buffet.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: mrip541

                                              <By chexican I mean the cheap places like "tortilla plus" where half the menu is Mexican food and half is Chinese..

                                              To me, those are two different things. Tortilla Plus and its ilk would be the Filipino taco joints, where you can get a black bean and guacamole soft taco for $2. Whereas the half Chinese, half Mexican (actually Dominican or Puerto Rican, I think) places I'd categorize as China Latina. Like this:


                                              1. re: small h

                                                Where can I find a Filipino taco joint? In my experience they're too busy running Grays Papayas.

                                                1. re: JungMann

                                                  Is that right? I haven't been inside a Gray's in decades. Whereas I got takeout from The Original Fresh Tortillas Grill* before I saw Gravity at the Kip's Bay, so, pretty recently. I thought the staff was Filipino, but I could be wrong.

                                                  *It's the best because it's ORIGINAL. Actually, it's not that good. But it's good enough, and cheaper than popcorn.

                                            2. Same food distributor.

                                              A lot of them use the same wholesalers, and copy the formula

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: sugartoof

                                                There are at least 10 full line food distributers/wholesalers in Manhattan, just saying. Not counting the small Boars Head, Thumanns, produce, meat purveyors etc that also deliver to them all.

                                                The brokers (who sell to the purveyors) WILL push some new product when it first comes out (like basically giving it away) and you might see it all over for a short while, but that changes on a weekly basis.

                                                But yes, they probably check each other out on their own, if that's what you meant.

                                                1. re: coll

                                                  yeah, well when they're all serving the exact same chicken caesar sandwich on a ciabatta, it's probably a good bet they use the same 1. If 10 are servicing the entire city, that explains that.

                                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                                    There are certain items that are best sellers for a reason. If they are that popular then yes, all the wholesalers will stock it. But the angle is to carry something that they have an exclusive on, and push that instead. So I guarantee there is no one item that every deli in the city carries. It just seems like it sometimes ;-)