Ziggy Gruber makes for a great protagonist—a lovable, heavyset, third-generation Jewish delicatessen owner, complete with a thick New York accent and a propensity towards loud kvetching in Yiddish. As the proprietor of Kenny & Ziggy’s Delicatessen in Houston, Gruber works long, stressful hours, eats too much, and tries to balance it all out by dabbling with acupuncture and personal trainers.

In the early 20th century, there were thousands of Jewish delis in the five boroughs of New York City. Today, according to the documentary, there are only 150 total in North America. The history of delicatessens, which Deli Man lovingly explores, is also the history of Jewish migration from Eastern Europe and the preservation of culinary traditions. It’s an interesting and entertaining film, especially with Gruber at its center, along with commentary from other second- and third-generation deli owners, and Jewish comedians like Jerry Stiller and Fyvush Finkel.

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But the documentary acquires an urgent, poignant note when you realize that, because of the Holocaust, no more Yiddish-speaking Eastern European Jews will ever migrate to the United States. The harder-to-find Yiddish foods Gruber is dedicated to making—potted meatballs, cabbage rolls, noodle kugels—are elements of a culture that, after genocide, have all but vanished from restaurants.

It’s an epiphany Gruber experienced as a teenager in the 1980s, while attending a meeting of the now defunct Delicatessen Dealers’ Association of Greater New York with his father: “I looked around the room, it was all 60- and 70-year-old people. I said to myself: ‘Who is going to perpetuate our food if I don’t do it?’ That was my calling.” recommended