Houston Holocaust Museum Exhibits Poignant Mementos of Jewish Deli History

Ziggy Gruber discussing a display with Bob Orlin and Ruth Stinfeld.

For the next few months, Houstonians can explore the history of Jewish-American food and culture at a special exhibit. The Houston Holocaust Museum, located at 5401 Caroline, is hosting “I’ll Have What She’s Having”: The Jewish Deli, which showcases a collection of delicatessen-centric media and artifacts from over the last century.

The name of the exhibit, which runs from May 5 until August 13, is a nod to the famous scene from “When Harry Met Sally” where Meg Ryan’s character’s “enthusiasm” for the turkey sandwich at Katz’ Delicatessen in New York inspires another patron to order “what she’s having.”

A display of various Jewish deli foods.
A display of various Jewish deli foods. Photo by Ryan Baker.

The exhibit “explores how American Jews imported traditions, adapted culture and built community through the experience of food.” With roots in Central and Eastern Europe, many of the dishes served in Jewish delis evolved in America due to different available ingredients and changes in tastes from one generation to the next, which created a unique cuisine.

The exhibit is succinct, and will take approximately 30 minutes to one hour to view. The space is well-organized, and each area pays homage to either a delicatessen, brand or tradition. Artifacts include famous signage, advertisements, neon signs, uniforms, menus and other memorabilia from around the country.

“I’ll Have What She’s Having”: The Jewish Deli, is a unique experience as it creates an in-depth cultural time-lapse beginning with a street-cart from the days before Russ & Daughters had a storefront, all the way to an informative display-making specific dishes easier to approach.

"I'll Have What She's Having": The Jewish Deli neon sign.
“I’ll Have What She’s Having”: The Jewish Deli neon sign. Photo by Ryan Baker.

Houston’s famous, third-generation deli man Ziggy Gruber supplied many of the items on display, such as the original Kenny & Ziggy’s neon sign and menu. Gruber is the owner of Houston’s well-respected Kenny & Ziggy’s New York Delicatessen, located near the Galleria.

One of the most memorable displays is the wall dedicated to the Levy Bread company’s, “You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy” campaign. This is a style of cuisine that everyone can enjoy in Houston, thanks to restaurants like Kenny & Ziggy’s with its massive, diverse and delicious menu. That said, it is also a genre of cuisine that is in danger of disappearing. During the 1930s, New York City was home to more than 1500 delicatessens and today, there are about 20 left in the area

The Holocaust Museum Houston first opened its doors in 1996, and is the fourth-largest of its kind in the country. The museum hours are Tuesday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m to 5 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free for people under the age of 18, and for everyone on Thursdays from 2 to 8 p.m. Tickets are available on the website.

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