Local Restaurant Owner Carries on Jewish Family Food Traditions
By Tonyia Cone
Native Austinite Zach Biderman vividly remembers spending Friday nights when he was growing up at his grandmother’s house, at a table full of traditional Jewish food, including chicken soup, kreplach and veal roast. Now he is sharing those flavors with others at Biderman’s Deli.
“My grandmother was one of the best cooks I’ve ever known,” said Biderman, explaining that his family joked that she had a secret kreplach stash in a freezer under her bed because she always had the dumplings on hand. “We tried to recreate some of those flavors here in what we're doing."
Biderman, also the owner of Austin dog care businesses Happy Mailman and Midtown Groom and Board and previously the operating partner at Seventh Flag Coffee in South Austin, came across the opportunity to purchase NeWorld Café on Far West Boulevard at the end of 2016, when he was toying around with the idea of opening a coffee shop with a food element.
“When I saw the location, I thought of a Jewish deli because we literally back up to the Dell Jewish Community Center,” said Biderman. “I saw this opportunity, thought I would like to fill this void in the Austin community, and started running with it.”
NeWorld Café had the start of a menu he liked, and was a natural place to start with Biderman’s idea to combine a Jewish-style deli with a craft coffee program and house made bagels.
Biderman’s Deli opened in the beginning of 2017, after Biderman remodeled the kitchen, repainted the space, built out the service area, redesigned the tables and installed coffee equipment. Throughout the process, he only closed the restaurant for a few weekends.
Biderman began adding menu items and hiring people, a challenging task in Austin’s booming restaurant scene. He also expanded the restaurant’s hours to 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day.
One of those he hired was Gabe Sims, the deli’s general manager who Biderman describes as the food mastermind. Sims previously owned Gabe’s Deli in Cleveland, Ohio, and comes on board with 20 years of service and food industry experience. His expertise has proven vital in researching and tweaking recipes for Biderman’s Deli, which has been a process of trial and error.
“Jewish people grow up eating the food the way their grandmothers or their parents cooked. A lot of times what we've seen is they have a particular way that they grew up with it, the way it was prepared. We try to reconcile all these different ways that people have eaten Jewish food growing up, to have something that's really appealing to the masses. We think we’ve gotten there with most of what we’re doing,” said Biderman, explaining that items like the matzo balls were challenging because they had to find the right consistency and flavor as well as prep methods to serve them in a timely manner.
Biderman said that while many sandwich shops are assembly line-style operations, a Jewish deli is labor intensive.
“A lot of items on our menu require long time to prepare and they’re very delicate. You can mess them up pretty easily. There are only a couple people here who can make certain items, like matzo balls or chopped liver. It's a very delicate process. For all those who’ve made these things before, you think about not only making them correctly but making them on a larger scale,” he explained.
While Austin has historically been challenging for Jewish style delis, and the restaurant business is notoriously tough in general, Biderman has created business lines that he expects will help Biderman’s beat its competition.
“I view the coffee business, the bagel business and the deli lunch business as three different ways to generate revenue and attract customers. I've tried to diversify a little bit in that sense. Also, being able to be open for seven days a week is leveraging our overhead. If we can be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner five days a week and breakfast and lunch on weekends, I think we're maximizing the space,” he explained.
Most items on Biderman’s menu are made in-house, with an emphasis on fresh ingredients. Traditional Jewish foods available include potato latkes, kugal, chopped liver, corned beef, matzo balls, chicken noodle soup, smoked whitefish, and of course, New York style, hand formed bagels.
Biderman’s coffee beans are from Huckleberry Roasters out of Denver, Colorado, and the deli makes its cold brew in-house.
“We're approachable. We're not selling the $30 Carnegie Deli triple deckers. We're making a sandwich you can afford, you can eat. A lot of people can't finish them and take half of it home,” he said.
Biderman’s breakfast menu includes classic bagel sandwiches like nova lox, white fish salad with pickled red onion, and corned beef, egg and swiss cheese. The deli has about a half dozen bagel flavors and six kinds of shmear.
The lunch menu includes traditional options like the best selling Reuben, as well as combo sandwiches named after Biderman family members. The Sol’s Way – pastrami, corned beef, chopped liver, onion and mustard on toasted rye – is Biderman’s great-grandfather’s namesake, while The Max – corned beef, turkey, swiss, coleslaw and Russian dressing on rye – is named after his grandfather.
“My dad’s side of the family was all Holocaust survivors. I grew up learning their stories and having that tradition as a big part of my life,” explained Biderman, who attended Congregation Beth Israel while growing up.
For those looking for something sweet after these or Biderman’s other sandwiches, salads and soups, the deli also offers fresh, house made black and white cookies, chocolate chip cookies, banana and zucchini bread, and cheesecake.
In the future, Biderman expects to offer catering and wholesale, and to expand the deli’s hours to 7 p.m. during the week for dinner.
His goal is to create a lively, active environment for his employees and customers, “where people are talking to each other, we know our customers and they know us, and there’s a true feeling of community.”
He explained that as the last Biderman, he is proud to carry on his family’s name and traditions.
“That part is special to me,” he said.
Biderman’s Deli is located at 3742 Far West Boulevard, #101, in Austin.