Oct 29, 2023 - Things to Do

New exhibit remembers Chicago delis

Museum exhibit with a "Manny's coffee shop" next to headless mannequins wearing diner uniforms.

An original sign and uniforms from Manny's Coffee Shop at the Illinois Holocaust Museum's new exhibit. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

One of the most interesting ways to tell the story of Chicago's Jewish community is through the rise, fall and reinvention of our delis.

What's happening: That story is deliciously told in a new traveling exhibit called "I'll Have What She's Having" at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie.

  • From old menus to uniforms, photos, videos, matchboxes and other artifacts, the exhibit illustrates how these eateries shaped and reflected Jewish populations in cities nationwide, but especially in Chicago and its suburbs.

What's new: For the exhibit's stop here, curators have beefed up sections on the Union Stockyards, as well as local delicatessens, Arielle Weininger, the museum's chief curator of collections, tells Axios.

The intrigue: Weininger is especially proud of the section on delis opened by Holocaust survivors, including:

  • Kaufman's Deli on Dempster in Skokie, originally owned by Maury Kaufman and still open.
  • Selma's on Devon, "first opened by a brother and sister from Germany," Weininger says.
  • Thorndale Deli in Edgewater, "opened by two friends who survived the Lodz [Poland] ghetto, Auschwitz and subsequent camps and then made it to Chicago."
  • Leon's in Skokie: "We even have the meat grinder they made their chopped liver with."
  • Romanian Kosher Sausage on Clark, still open today.

🥪 Three cool things that caught my eye:

Nate's Deli

This Maxwell Street fixture started as Lyon's Deli, where Black chef Nate Duncan learned Kosher cooking and carried on the place under his name.

  • In the '80s, the spot doubled as the Soul Food Cafe, where Aretha Franklin sang "Think" in "The Blues Brothers."
Storefront of Soul Food Cafe with people in front and a photo of the Blues Brothers.
Nate's shown during the "Blues Brothers" filming. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Fair prices

This section features the history of regulating "fair prices" at delis across the nation.

  • I'd like the 1930s-era Roquefort cheese sandwich for 20 cents, please.
wall of exhibit
Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

The Vienna truck

Maybe I'm a nerd, but I loved learning how Chicago's Vienna (originally kosher) Sausage Co. modernized from a horse-drawn delivery cart to this motorized truck in the 1920s — and, of course, taking selfies with it.

woman next to old truck
Vienna brought in its 1927 truck for the opening of the exhibit. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

If you go: The exhibition is open Wednesdays to Mondays, 10am-5pm, through April 14, 2024. Tickets: $6-$18.


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