New York's Famous Katz's Deli Will Still 'Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army'

All you need is an APO or FPO address for your boy (or girl) in any branch, not just the Army.

Katz's Delicatessen is known for many things. It's New York City's oldest operating deli, it's where Meg Ryan famously stunned Billy Crystal (and everyone else present) in the beloved romantic comedy "When Harry Met Sally," and it'll make a pastrami sandwich so surprisingly large, you'll wish you had brought a friend to share it with. The price tag might shock new visitors to Manhattan's Lower East Side, but those visitors are getting the highest-quality meat, prepared in the old-world style, a method of curing and preservation that dates back centuries.

"Listen, it's a classic. It's the way deli was traditionally," Jake Dell, a member of the Dell family that now owns Katz's, recently told "It's a snapshot in time, dating back to the late 1800s -- a food tradition that you don't see everywhere. We're really proud to uphold those traditions, to do things the classic way and to make sure the food is some of the best you've ever had. You might've tried some new or fun variations of it and that's wonderful, but there's something special about the classic and the nostalgia of our place."

What visitors might also be surprised by is its decades-old promise to "Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army." Signs with the saying adorn the walls, hang from the ceiling and are even on the backs of employee T-shirts. But it is more than just a slogan: Like everything at Katz's, it's part of a tradition, but this one dates back to World War II, when so many New Yorkers were away at war.

"At the time, the owners' three sons were serving in different branches, Air Force and Army primarily," said Dell. "Their mother was worried they weren't eating too well over there with the rations and so figured, 'Well, we got to send them some food.' So they figured out a way to send over some salamis, and yeah, it's a tradition we've been doing ever since."

And maybe some pastrami to your mother.

Katz's Delicatessen was founded in 1888 as "Iceland Brothers" by two brothers named Iceland. Willy Katz bought into the deli in 1903, and the name changed to "Iceland & Katz" until Willy's brother Benny came along and bought the brothers out. It's been called "Katz's Delicatessen" ever since. In April 1917, landlord Harry Tarowsky bought into the business. The slogan "Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army" originated with his family during World War II, but has remained a staple of Katz's Deli, and spread well beyond Manhattan.

"It became pretty popular after an old skit with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis where they sing a song, 'Send a Salami, to your Boy in the Army'; there's a whole song and dance routine," Dell said. "And by the way, it rhymes if you say it like a true New Yorker: 'Salami/Army.' You wouldn't think so, but that's how we do it."

Some might wonder what's so enticing about getting a salami in a care package, but anyone who's eaten MREs three meals a day for weeks on end can absolutely tell you. At the very least, it's a welcome change; for many, it can be a literal godsend, especially during World War II, when an estimated 550,000 Jewish troops served at a time when the U.S. government wasn't exactly concerned with making sure those boys could eat kosher.

Jewish soldiers, even those raised kosher, changed the way they ate so they could fight the war, so far that "eating ham for Uncle Sam" became a mantra of the times. But when times were good, families could send something like a kosher salami to their boys overseas. Then, as now, a properly cured salami will make the trip, no matter how long it takes.

"It can last," Dell said. "These old-world preservation techniques, curing and smoking, go back centuries. You see it all over the world in different forms, and it's about taking a piece of food and making it last. Salami, and a lot of sausages in general, just really can withstand temperature changes, travel and things like that. So even if it does get lost and it gets there three, four, even five weeks later, it's still good to eat."

A photo dating back to World War II hanging on the wall of Katz's Deli in Manhattan's Lower East Side.

Though Katz's (and many delis like it) helped ease hunger pangs and homesickness during World War II with their salamis, the tradition didn't stop there. Sending a salami to boys in the Army (and the Air Force, Coast Guard, Navy and Marine Corps) continued through the rest of the country's overseas conflicts, and when the Dell family took over Katz's in 1988, they never thought about changing it.

"It's humbling as hell, that's for sure," Jake Dell says. "I mean, it's unbelievable. We have various letters up on the wall, dating back to Vietnam, from various people thanking us for salamis over the years. One of my managers is a Marine. One of my other managers was Army, and when he was serving in Iraq, we sent him care packages all the time. It's a great tradition and one that we're really proud of."

Katz's Deli can ship pretty much anything it sells in New York City to anywhere in the U.S. or Canada. Corned beef can get to California, matzo ball soup to Miami and pastrami to Portland, Oregon. The deli can send everything you need to make the world's best Reuben sandwich as long as you're stateside, but as of right now, it can only ship salamis to overseas military bases.

"All we need is an APO or an FPO address," Dell says. "My father always said, ‘Wherever there's a soldier, there's a salami.’”

To learn more about Katz's Delicatessen or place an order, visit the Katz's Deli website. To send a salami to your boy (or girl) in the Army (Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and probably even the Space Force), call at 212-254-2246 and make sure you have the APO/FPO address of the person deployed overseas.

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