Chicago’s Ashkenazi-style Jewish deli scene, which has seen a smattering of closures in recent years, will gain a new entrant this summer with the debut of Schneider Deli, a permanent home for chef and owner Jake Schneider’s operation. Housed in the iconic Ohio Street Motel at the corner of LaSalle and Ohio, the deli should open in early August with sandwiches made with their own corned beef and Dr. Brown’s floats.
“We’re doing a lot in a small space so I think it’s definitely going have that feel of a traditional deli,” Schneider, a suburban Highland Park native, says. “The goal is that when you walk in, there’s a lot to process and be excited about.”
The Ohio Street Motel restaurant space sports a famously small counter with room for 21 seats. Coffee and breakfast are big for the downtown crowd so Schneider will serve corned beef hash, bagels and lox, and chocolate cherry coffee cake in the morning. Lunch will feature a lineup of sandwiches like pastrami and brisket alongside vegetarian options including pickled mushrooms. Much like Chicago Jewish deli icon Manny’s, Schneider Deli will cut its meats to order behind the counter — a component that excites Schneider, who says he wants to create a bustling atmosphere that’s “not hectic, but controlled chaos.” The offerings will also include Matzo ball soup and a deli case packed with latkes, egg salad, onion dip, and more. Its bagels will come from Once Upon a Bagel in suburban Northbrook.
For an extra dose of Ashkenazi nostalgia, the deli will feature “high-quality, tight-bubble” seltzer on tap, which the team will use to create dessert drinks like egg creams — a Jewish American deli classic that contains neither eggs nor cream — and specialty sodas made with flavored syrups made on-site. Schneider sees an opportunity to carve out a niche among patrons who don’t drink alcohol, instead featuring fresh lemonade, flavored Arnold Palmers, draft cold brew, and Dr. Brown’s, a staple soda brand for delis, in cans and as ice cream floats.
From his earliest days, food was inevitably at the forefront of Schneider’s mind: “I was always a big eater growing up as a kid — I think my first word was candy,” he says. He didn’t attend culinary school, instead earning a degree in economics from Union Union College in Schenectady, New York, and went on to work as a prep cook for Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’ restaurants L2O and RPM Italian. He later moved on to lauded spots including Daisies and Perennial Virant before landing at Tovala, the nationally known meal kit company known for its smart oven.
By summer 2022, however, Schneider was ready to move on a project he’d contemplated for years — Schneider Provisions, a virtual pickle business that became a frequent flier on the pop-up circuit, including several stints at the Reader’s Monday Night Foodbal pop-up series. Slowly, the idea of a full-fledged deli came into focus.“We did a catering event in the suburbs for a family friend, and that’s when something clicked,” he says. “I thought, ‘We can do this for real.’”
The Ohio House Coffee Shop closed in 2013 after more than 50 years in the space. The space then went through Leghorn Chicken and Cafe Tola. The pandemic didn’t help in finding a tenant. Schneider aims to potentially expand into several locations. “My vision is to have multiple outposts and eventually make our own bagels,” says Schneider. “This is the test, I would say.”
Schneider Deli, 600 N. LaSalle Drive, scheduled to open in early August.