Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army!
Itook my first trip to NYC in my early ‘20s. My mom—forever known for taking sporadic trips—thought it was time for me to see the Big Apple.
It was winter when we arrived. Together, we hopped out of the Lincoln car that transported us around the city. We stood in front of a neon red sign—Katz’s. Inside the delicatessen, a blue light shined bright overhead: “Send a salami to your boy in the army!” it read. Butcher knives pounded away on cutting boards and sliced through the grain of juicy meat (a lost art), and echoes of happy conversation rivaled the holler of a busy chef calling out, “Next!” from behind the glass counter. Bells rang, the wind loudly swooped in and out of the door as more people piled in. My mouth watered at the aroma of hot smoked pastrami and freshly baked rye bread. It was, to say the least, a delicious experience.
Since its founding in 1888 in Manhattan’s Lower East Side during the teeming 20th century of immigration, Katz’s has changed very little. Sure, the light fixtures host more eco-friendly bulbs, but the vibe is still very much the same. Famed among locals, vacationers and on the big screen (“When Harry Met Sally,” “Donnie Brasco”), Katz’s is most symbolic for its oversized pastrami sandwiches and hot dogs, both of which are considered to be New York’s greatest. A link for many in New York, where heritage meets the heart, Katz’s Delicatessen ships their renowned meats, pickles, knishes, mustard, and cheesecake anywhere stateside for loyal customers to continue and enjoy. And, to my delight, I learned the military roots I briefly witnessed years ago from a glowing blue neon sign have deepened with even more dedication to serve those whom are currently serving us.
Originating in World War II, the founder of Katz’s, Harry Tarowsky, had three sons in the armed forces. Each week he’d send dried, aged salamis to his boys. When customers came in upset and unsure what to send to their loved ones on the European and Pacific fronts, Tarowsky would offer a simple suggestion that would become the embodiment of one of Katz’s most famed traditions for 70 years: “Send a salami to your boy in the Army!”
“Tarowsky was my great uncle,” says veteran Commander Robert Albinder, a U.S. Navy reserve, Officer in Charge, with Detachment 5, Surgical Company B, 4th Medical Battalion. Part of the Navy-Marine Corps team that supported the Marine Corps’ 6th Communications Battalion, Albinder served green side with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Unit for 13 years out of his 20-and-half year term. He was also stationed at Camp Lejeune during the late ‘80s. Today, and for the past 29 years, he has also served as general manager of Katz’s, and with a heavy Marine Corps family connection.
“I love the strong attachment we have always had to the military,” Albinder says. “We get thousands of service members through our doors. This place has a strong military connection to it—no matter what branch.”
The safety Albinder and the rest of the country feels on home turf can never be repaid fully. Albinder knows firsthand that any amount of reciprocation and appreciation shown means a lot to a soldier.
“I feel good every time an order goes out to our service members overseas,” he says. “It makes me think of my time served in the military, when I was away from home. We get letters from service members all the time and we hang on to them. Some letters, if they don’t reveal any personal information, we’ll put on our wall and we always take a moment to reread them. They mean a lot to us.”
Referenced in the Tom Lehrer song, “So Long, Mom,” with the lyrics, “Remember Mommy, I’m off to get a commie, so send me a salami, and try to smile somehow,” it is playfully suggested that Katz’s helped end the war. According to legend, when artillery units ran out of shells, they’d throw Katz’s salamis instead. The enemy loved the meat so much, they’d surrender altogether.
“We’ve been doing this continually longer than anyone else in the business and way before the actual slogan caught on,” Albinder explains.
Appropriately, orders for their corned beef Reuben rings in the background during our conversation. As if on cue, Albinder admits the love for sending a taste of New York to citizens serving our nation abroad.
“We try to make the life of our service members and the life of their comrades better,” he notes. “It’s not just salami. It’s something from home. It’s a taste of home—and when you get it when you’re far away it means a lot.”
From privates in the enlisted ranks all the way to the chief of Naval Operations, Katz’s ships salamis to everyone. Sizes vary from 1.5, 2.5 and a whopping 3.5 pounds. Whether a native New Yorker stationed stateside, missing that certain tasty treat, or a family member or spouse looking to send a few pounds to their service person, Katz’s provides a connection of great family tradition. It’s no wonder they take the lead on delicatessen conventions, outstanding customer service and service to our country.
“We want, more than anything, for those serving to know we’re proud of you—all of you!” he says, his voice cracking with emotion. “And we thank you for protecting us. We’re here, doing our part to hopefully make you feel better.”