A Jewish-American Deli Fan Embarks on a 16,000-Mile Motorbike Journey (Chicago Eater)

Naomi Waxman
June 2, 2021

This article first appeared in Chicago Eater.

Chicago’s famed Manny’s Deli was the starting point for a local motorcycle enthusiast’s 16,000-mile journey as he draws attention to the hunger crisis that has swept the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Steve Goode is a retired real estate broker living in suburban Deerfield with a passion for Jewish-American deli food. He plans to visit 42 Jewish delis across the country over the course of 75 days. He and around 30 other riders rolled into Manny’s to eat and celebrate before hitting the road on Tuesday.

“You’d see everyone from presidents to construction people at Manny’s,” Goode says, “They get a cross section of Chicagoans… Each deli has its own special cache, its own feel. It’s like going to national parks — they all have their own specialty that obviously keeps them in business and makes them top of their field.”

Dubbed “the Great American Deli Schlep,” the trip was inspired by a nation-wide deli map published in 2018 by Jewish food website the Nosher. It’s also a partnership with Jewish anti-hunger nonprofit MAZON, which advocates for public policy changes to support hungry people regardless of religion or ethnicity. Goode will head east toward Maine, then head south to Florida, west to California, then north to Washington, before heading east and looping back home.

A regular at Manny’s since he was a boy growing up on Chicago’s South Side, Goode says he’s eager to put his vast experience with cross-country motorcycle trips (including one to every national park in 48 states) to good use.

Goode points to MAZON’s focus on policy change as a means of making a difference: “Interstate highway systems weren’t built by a single state or community — they were built on a federal level,” he says. “No one deli is going to address or solve the problem. Fighting hunger, all kinds of hunger, also needs to be on that [federal] level… It’s not a matter of resources. It’s a matter of political will to solve it.”

He’ll make most of the trip alone, posting updates to MAZON’s blog, but in each city plans to meet up with local members of the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance and ride into town as a group. He’ll mix noshing and kibbitzing with advocacy at famous deli hotspots like Katz’s in New York City, Canter’s in Los Angeles, and Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The project unintentionally coincides with a spike in antisemitic attacks in the U.S.

The pandemic and resulting unemployment crisis have severely exacerbated hunger and food insecurity, both in Chicago and across the U.S. Since the virus began to spread in March 2020, the number of Americans facing hunger doubled, growing from 40 to 80 million, MAZON reports. That mirrors the rates in Cook County, where food insecurity last year rose by 51 percent, according to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

For Manny’s owner Dan Raskin, the trip and resulting press is good for both the fight against hunger and for Jewish delis. The rising cost of meat is a huge challenge for businesses like his that are famous for massive brisket and corned beef sandwiches, he says. Many Jewish American delis are small, sell food that is costly and labor-intensive, and lack staff with the online ordering know-how and savvy social media that helped Manny’s stay viable since March 2020.

Manny’s over the past year has also partnered with World Central Kitchen, chef and activist José Andrés’ charity, to feed hungry Chicagoans, frontline workers, and voters on Election Day. The experience showed Raskin the severity of hunger issues in his own city.

“The pandemic really gave me time to see what was happening outside of Manny’s,” he says. “I was busy in my routine working six or seven days a week, and all of a sudden we had no business. I started partnering with groups that brought me to other parts of Chicago where people need help. It’s opened up a new place in my heart to want to give back and help people when we can.”