David Axelrod, the chief strategist for Obama’s presidential campaigns, used to joke, “I went to Manny’s to clog my arteries and clear my head.” He considers the deli his second office.
Located in the South Loop, Manny’s Deli claims they have lasted in the neighborhood for so long mainly by staying the same. Manny’s origins can be traced to the summer of 1942. It was during this time that two Jewish immigrant brothers from Russia, Jack and Charlie Raskin, joined forces to sell their mom’s recipes in Greektown, Chicago. Their focus on quick service and big portions is what kept their customers coming back. Seventy-eight years later and the family business is still thriving.
Source: Manny’s Deli
When the brothers opened their first restaurant, although back then it wasn’t called Manny’s, at the corner of Van Buren and Halsted, a slew of other Jewish delis were scattered about the neighborhood. They quickly distinguished themselves from the rest, establishing a reputation for their corned beef and pastrami.
Following World War II, the entrepreneurial duo parted ways and Jack bought a diner named Sunny’s. Before opening, he changed the first two letters so that it would be named after his son, Manny. After his father passed, Manny took over the cafeteria-style restaurant which even then, was one of the last of its kind in the Chicago-land area. The Manny’s van could be seen circling the neighborhood, making deliveries and picking up patrons for lunch.
Today, Manny’s is run by Ken Raskin, the son of Manny. The iconic deli still operates as it did in the forties, with Ken running the kitchen, his son Dan running the deli and Ken’s wife Patti baking the pastries. Many people probably heard of Manny’s from the visit by David Axelrod, then Senior Advisor to former President Barack Obama. Over the years Manny’s has become a popular campaign stop, serving mayors Richard J. and Richard M. Daley, Pat Quinn, Bill Clinton, Obama, and many others.
Stepping into Manny’s Deli feels like making a trip back in time. The checkered floors and walls covered in news clippings and memorabilia combine to preserve the deli’s time warp feel. It has been a backdrop for a variety of TV shows including “ER” and “Shameless.” Despite Manny’s political popularity and entertainment debuts, most customers come for the comfortable food and good people.
The inside of Manny’s Deli’s physical location.Source: Manny’s Deli
In 2016, Manny’s underwent a $1 million renovation and acquired a new deli counter and salad bar. Prior to this update, the cafeteria line had not been replaced since 1965. The expansion also allowed for more baked goods and developments to their catering business. In a recent interview, Dan stated, “You have to modernize and go to what your customers want, but not change the things that you’re known for and what they come here for”. Manny’s success can be attributed to the Raskin family’s ability to continually adapt while simultaneously preserving the delicatessen’s reputation as a “relic of the past”.
Back in April, Dan Raskin mentioned in an interview with The Chicago Tribune that the deli’s sales were down by 70% due to Covid-19. Raskin went on to explain that his main concern was taking care of his employees during the pandemic. He quickly realized that honing in on deliveries and catering would be the best way to do so.
As a result, one of the partners that Manny’s joined forces with was the FanFood initiative, BuildingEats. The program enables residents in nearby apartment buildings to place bulk orders from Manny’s. This partnership allows Chicagoans to conveniently and responsibly enjoy delicious food while simultaneously supporting the iconic Manny’s and its staff.
Source: Chicago Tribune