Sam & Gertie’s, what may be the world’s first vegan Jewish deli, opened for regular hours today after a brief debut pop-up in late December. A tribute to co-owner Andy Kalish’s youth spent in Detroit’s Jewish delis and bagel shops, the menu features animal-free versions of Eastern European Jewish classics such as knishes, chopped liver, smoked whitefish salad, babka, and more. It’s a mom-and-pop operation, as Kalish owns it with his wife Gina.
The counter-service spot named for Andy Kalish’s maternal grandparents, Sam and Gertie Stuart, offers both dine-in and to-go options, and a large glass deli case displays containers of potato, “egg’less,” and “chik’n” salads. Spare and cozy, the former Longacre pizza space bears weathered pressed tin on one wall and a handful of wooden tables that seat around 10. As is practically required by Jewish law, a sizable selection of Dr. Brown’s sodas are also available.
Andy Kalish said that early positive responses have confirmed his belief that a vegan Jewish restaurant can be a uniting force — a place, for example, where Ashkenazi Jewish Chicagoans can introduce a vegan spouse to their culinary heritage, or where a Jewish vegetarian can taste chopped liver for the first time in 30 years. It’s not the first vegan deli owned by Jews, but the Kalishes say its the first they could find that is rooted both in American Jewish culinary culture as well as veganism. It’s also partly inspired by Chicago Jewish stalwart Ashkenaz Deli, which closed in 2012 after 102 years.
As rates of anti-Semitic incidents spike across the country and some Jewish-owned or affiliated restaurants and bars have been vandalized with anti-Jewish graffiti, Andy Kalish displays his religious and ethnic Jewish identity in the deli’s neon sign in the window and on Sam & Gertie’s T-shirts bearing a glittery gold Star of David on the back. While some American Jews seek safety by downplaying their heritage and religion, Kalish said it’s important to him to be visibly Jewish. “If someone breaks our window, we’ll get a new window,” he shrugged.
Though they’re still in the midst of the opening whirlwind, the couple are getting ready to embark on their next venture — Porferio D.F., a vegan taqueria and cantina inspired by Gina Kalish’s hometown of Mexico City. An opening timeframe is not yet available, but they hope to open the new restaurant this year.
Sam & Gerties, 1309 W. Wilson Avenue, Open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday; 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.