How a Jewish deli run by Muslims became the symbol of a changing neighborhood

Read full story

Undividing America Banner 1200

pastrami sandwich, Davids Brisket House Sarah Jacobs

The Jewish delicatessen is an iconic American institution. Nowhere else in the world will you find a local shop so focused on the preparation of beef by curing, brining, and poaching.

Pastrami, corned beef, and brisket are usually the trifecta of meats atop the menu at traditional Jewish delis. These beloved dishes grew in popularity in the 1930s, when the Jewish delis - then competing with the newly arrived supermarkets - began serving to-go items, including the now-classic pastrami on rye. While they're not quite as common today, there were up to 300 delis serving kosher dishes in New York City by the 1960s.

These days, in the predominantly African-American neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant - or Bed-Stuy - in Brooklyn, you'll find David's Brisket House, a Jewish deli that has been owned by the same Muslim family for 50 years.

The deli was originally kosher, owned by a Jewish family, but when its former owners put it on the market in the 1960s, it was bought by two business partners: one, a Yemenite Muslim, and the other a Yemenite Jew.

The partners decided that instead of changing the menu, they would keep customers coming back for their beloved meats.

Today, even as Bed-Stuy faces vast socioeconomic change and gentrification, David's Brisket House has survived as a neighborhood staple and a truly unique blend of cultures. The deli has stayed in the family and is now run by Riyadh Gazali, the nephew of one of the partners.

We paid a visit to David's Brisket House to learn more about the miraculous meat - here's what we saw.

View As: One Page Slides

Today, the restaurant stays involved in the community, hosting events in partnership with Breaking Bread NYC. Breaking Bread is currently helping raise funds for HIAS, a non-profit that originally assisted Jewish refugees, and is currently helping to protect the rights of Muslim refugees. The deli is hosting a fundraising event this August.

Today, the restaurant stays involved in the community, hosting events in partnership with Breaking Bread NYC. Breaking Bread is currently helping raise funds for HIAS, a non-profit that originally assisted Jewish refugees, and is currently helping to protect the rights of Muslim refugees. The deli is hosting a fundraising event this August.

More info: Breaking Bread NYC, HIAS

Several neighboring businesses have shuttered, including the Slave Theater, which in the '80s and '90s acted as a home base for local community activists. The theater sold for $2.1 million in 2013, and it has since been demolished to make way for apartments. Others, such as the Head Hunter Barbershop, which was open for almost 70 years, have recently closed, citing an "increase in rent and gentrification."

Several neighboring businesses have shuttered, including the Slave Theater, which in the '80s and '90s acted as a home base for local community activists. The theater sold for $2.1 million in 2013, and it has since been demolished to make way for apartments. Others, such as the Head Hunter Barbershop, which was open for almost 70 years, have recently closed, citing an "increase in rent and gentrification."

Source: Curbed, DNA Info

"Gentrification is playing a big role here," he said. "It's deciding what business stays and what business goes."

"Gentrification is playing a big role here," he said. "It's deciding what business stays and what business goes."

Although Gazali didn't grow up in Bed-Stuy, he has seen plenty of changes in the neighborhood in his seven years of working there. Recently, many of Bed-Stuy's townhomes have been purchased by investors and developers seeking to turn a profit.

Although Gazali didn't grow up in Bed-Stuy, he has seen plenty of changes in the neighborhood in his seven years of working there. Recently, many of Bed-Stuy's townhomes have been purchased by investors and developers seeking to turn a profit.

Source: New York Times

On the walls, photos depicting Yemen hang next to images of brisket sandwiches. They pay homage to the country the owners' families hailed from.

On the walls, photos depicting Yemen hang next to images of brisket sandwiches. They pay homage to the country the owners' families hailed from.

Gazali says the pastrami sandwich is the most popular menu item. The brined, partially dried, seasoned, and perfectly sliced beef on rye is a delicious, filling sandwich that melts in your mouth.

Gazali says the pastrami sandwich is the most popular menu item. The brined, partially dried, seasoned, and perfectly sliced beef on rye is a delicious, filling sandwich that melts in your mouth.

Like any traditional Jewish deli, corned beef is still on the menu, available to order.

Like any traditional Jewish deli, corned beef is still on the menu, available to order.

It's not simple. "It's a four-hour process to cook the brisket," he said. "The heavier weight it is, the longer it cooks. It's oven-baked with vegetables like carrots, celery, and garlic. It needs a lot of attention — every thirty minutes we have to check on it to add water and flip it."

It's not simple. "It's a four-hour process to cook the brisket," he said. "The heavier weight it is, the longer it cooks. It's oven-baked with vegetables like carrots, celery, and garlic. It needs a lot of attention — every thirty minutes we have to check on it to add water and flip it."

Since taking over the business full-time in 2010, Gazali has simplified the menu. The brisket is the only meat they prepare fully in-house.

Since taking over the business full-time in 2010, Gazali has simplified the menu. The brisket is the only meat they prepare fully in-house.

The deli is across the street from its original location. After the two men purchased it back in the 1960s, they started preparing meats in the halal tradition, but much of the menu remained the same. "It was actually a full-scale Jewish deli," Gazali told Business Insider. "[My uncle] was [serving] the tongue, the kidney, veggie platters — he was [serving] a lot of stuff. That's a lot of work for one person to do."

The deli is across the street from its original location. After the two men purchased it back in the 1960s, they started preparing meats in the halal tradition, but much of the menu remained the same. "It was actually a full-scale Jewish deli," Gazali told Business Insider. "[My uncle] was [serving] the tongue, the kidney, veggie platters — he was [serving] a lot of stuff. That's a lot of work for one person to do."

When it comes to preparing meat, the kosher tradition is slightly more laborious than the halal tradition. Kosher practices include the removal of certain forbidden fat and veins from the animal, followed by a soak in water and various salts. But when it comes to the slaughtering, both religions focus on the fact that the animal must be killed in a humane way.

"It's not shot, it's not electrucuted, it's not tortured," Gazali said. "Then it's considered halal."

Add Comment()

Comments ()

X
Sort By:
Be the first one to comment.
We have sent you a verification email. This comment will be published once verification is done.