When Jake Dell graduated from Tufts in 2009, he was passionate about becoming a physician. So he took a year off to study for the medical entrance exams. On the side, he helped out at the family business, Katz’s Delicatessen.
Katz’s, of course, is legendary. Located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, it’s been around since 1888—his father and uncle were fourth generation co-owners—and is known to this day for the classic pastrami and corned beef sandwiches and the classic Meg Ryan scene in When Harry Met Sally.
Katz’s may have been Dell’s family business, but apart from summers working there as teenager, he said, “I knew nothing about running a deli.” Still, when he wasn’t studying for the entrance exams during his year off, he found himself at the deli. He did a bit of everything there—ordering food from vendors and suppliers, supervising staff, and handling customers—and, more and more, he felt comfortable.
So when his father started looking for someone to turn the business over to, Dell surprised himself by taking the idea seriously. His younger sister, Beckylee Dell, A13, is a software engineer, and running a deli didn’t seem to be in her future. “I realized if I didn’t do it, no one else was going to do it,” said Dell, who’d majored in economics at Tufts. In 2013 he formally took over—though his dad still stops by occasionally to help out.
Dell said he’s focused these days on increasing revenue in new ways, including shipping food across the country and expanding delivery service in the New York metro area. Meanwhile, the family recently did well in the sale of two adjacent properties, so the deli’s financial future looks secure.
Dell said he’s never regretted his decision to take over Katz’s Delicatessen. “It’s exactly what it was a hundred years ago,” he said. “When I see customers smile at the smell of a hot dog and a tray of french fries, I’m happy.”