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Inside Jersey City’s Secret Jewish Deli

by Stephanie Spear
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Hank Schwartz is the latest newcomer to the Jersey City food scene. But Hank Schwartz isn’t a real person – in fact, he isn’t even a person. He’s the alter ego of Jason Stahl, the actual person behind Hank Schwartz’s Delicatessen and Appetizing, a traditional Jewish deli operating out of a ghost kitchen in Jersey City Heights. Read on for more about this innovative take on a classic concept. 

About Hank Schwartz

Jason Stahl is the man behind Hank Schwartz’s Delicatessen and Appetizing, but Hank Schwartz is just the alter ego, but he also happens to be a fish.  “My wife and I started a joke a few years ago where we would make up names and characters for these fish at the deli counter,” Jason said. “We would make up stories about them as they went on adventures throughout New York. All of the characters are named Schwartz.” All of the extended cast of characters from Jason and his wife Theresa Gambacorta’’s imagination will get their own sandwiches on the menu.

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The fish logo harkens back to that story. “The logo was designed by a dear friend,” Jason said. “We went back and forth, we wanted something playful, and we landed on the fish. Every time I see it I smile.”

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Jason and his family have lived in the area for over 20 years. “We moved to Hoboken in 2002 and we moved to Jersey City in 2019,” he said. Even though Jason has had a long career in publishing, he has always had the idea of running a Jewish deli in the back of his mind. “My wife works at Corto and we had joked around with the idea of running a Jewish deli,” he said. “In 2019, I was a contractor at Google. When my contract wasn’t renewed, it seemed like it was the right time to try it out. I was also reading a book called Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli by Ted Merwin that made me excited about the concept.”

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Jason started getting serious about his idea in the summer of 2019. Unsurprisingly, the pandemic put a freeze on his plans. Even though he was still, and continues to work as an editor, he revisited the topic in early 2021. He made traditional cookies, called Hammentaschen, for Purim, a Jewish springtime holiday. “It was a good start to get the word out, and build our brand,” he said. “Since then I’ve been developing things. It’s a little sporadic in terms of when and what we’re offering. But we’re getting into a groove of more regular offerings.”

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In addition to the pre-order menus available weekly, Hank’s has pickled cucumbers for sale at Riverview Wine and Spirits, located at 43 Bowers Street, and through the farmers market at RH Farms in Hackettstown, NJ. “We would like to get our own booth at the Riverview Farmers Market,” Jason said.

Jason says that his ultimate goal is to have his own storefront open seven days a week. “Eventually I want to have a storefront. In the early 20th century, Jewish delis were a place where people could gather and chat. That’s what I want to have,” he said. “I want people to come, get some food, hang out, and get to know each other.”

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“It’s been very exciting,” Jason said of the experience so far. “Everyone I talk to about this, people ask ‘when are you opening’ – I need to raise money for it. Everyone is excited for this open at some point in the future. It gives me a lot of hope. There aren’t many Jewish Delis around this area. We’re offering a solution. What will differentiate this deli is that it’s making a menu out of an entire diaspora. Places like Carnegie Deli, Katz’s Deli will always be an attraction. They will outlive everyone. But as people’s eating habits change, people want something different. Having a menu that takes from the entire diaspora, plus Italian influence, but Israel, Italy, England, Japan, Northern Africa, and other parts of the US. That’s what we’re trying to go for. At the same time, we want a menu that’s well-curated, and on the smaller side. We will have sandwiches, sides, sweets, I can see it in my mind.”

Jason said he is looking for investors and business partners and has been busy circulating his business plan.

About the Delicatassen

Jason runs everything from a commercial kitchen in The Heights. Typically orders are delivered to customers, or they can pick up. Currently, the menu is available online and via the deli’s customer newsletter. Everything is pre-ordered from a set menu, which changes from week to week. “It seems like every few weeks there’s a Jewish holiday with the food to go with it,” Jason said. “So we’re always updating the menu.” One of Hank’s specialties is a Jerusalem bagel, an oval-shaped bagel that is not boiled before baking. “I haven’t seen Jerusalem bagels anywhere else,” Jason said.

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The menu will have some classic Jewish deli items as well as items that represent other pockets of Jewish culture. “The main thing is Jewish deli cuisine – smoked meats. Things like pastrami on rye with deli mustard, lox on a bagel w cream cheese. We make our own bagels and lox,” Jason said. “We will have latkes during Hanukah. Purim just happened, we had hamentashen.”

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Overall, Jason says that the items will have a more global influence than many may expect. “The Jewish deli idea is taken from eastern Europe. but if you take a step back and look at what Jewish cuisine is around the world, for example in Israel, you’ll find the sabiche – it’s a sandwich with eggplant, egg, and hummus. Hummus is huge there. So stuff like that will be on the menu as well.”

In Summer 2023, Jason announced that Hank Schwartz’s would have a booth at the Riverview Farmers Market on the first and third Sunday of each month. He also told HG that he found space for a ghost kitchen, which would allow him to expand operations.

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