Opinion: An Ode To Manny’s Cafeteria And Delicatessen In Chicago

By Scott Simon

In this file photo taken Nov. 4, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn thanks voters at Manny’s Deli, two days after the general election in which he defeated Republican challenger Bill Brady.
M. Spencer Green/AP

I’ve had lunch with politicians, clergy, reporters and people who’ve just been indicted at Manny’s Cafeteria and Delicatessen in Chicago, and there’s a code of silence over the clatter: it doesn’t count. The schmear of cream cheese thick enough to be a ski jump? No calories! Potato pancakes hefty as manhole covers?

No calories!

No doubt there are artisanal knish-makers today, but no place quite like Manny’s, which opened in 1942. Lots of famous names routinely imperil their arteries there. But the real show is the a happy babble of voices in English, Yiddish Spanish, Hindi, and bunches of bankers in pinstripes noshing alongside crews in scuffed boots who just got off their shift on a sanitation truck.

The coronavirus shutdown began in March. One of the benefits of a family business is they can run it more like family than a business–for a while. Dan Raskin, the 4th generation of his family to run Manny’s, says they kept all 43 staff members working, making meals for health care workers, and made sure staff brought food home to their families. “They’re our families, too,” Dan Raskin told us.