Carnegie Deli and Other Bad New York Restaurants


When you’re a kid, there are certain cartoons you just love. That love remains over time as your warmly think back on childhood memories. It lasts, that is, until you foolishly go back and watch an episode of two of a favorite show, what which point you say, “Holy cow! That show is terrible.”

I was thinking of this as I read the surprisingly large press that greeted the news that New York’s Carnegie Deli will be closing. It even made the front page of the Financial Times print edition this weekend.

About 10 or 15 years ago I decided to go check Carnegie Deli out. The food was awful.

I couldn’t finish my sandwich – not because it was so big, but because it was so bad.

As all these old line NYC businesses go under one by one, replaced by something suitably gentrified, everybody is bemoaning the loss of places they used to patronize over the years.

What you don’t get from reading these is just how terrible most of these businesses actually were.

Carnegie Deli was a case in point. When’s the last time your average New Yorker actually ate there? How much of this sentimental attachment to these places comes from people who used to go them long ago but never patronize them anymore building them up in their minds the way we build up our childhood cartoons? A lot, I suspect.

Not every genre of old-school NYC business is bad. The hardware stores I’ve been in have been solid. But restaurants in particular are mostly awful.

Crain’s New York did a big piece on the disappearance of the New York diner. There’s a reason for this. Diners in New York are horrible, at least the ones in Manhattan. I’ve never once been to a good one – and I keep trying new ones. My benchmark dish is the turkey club. In Manhattan the turkey is invariably so dry I can’t finish it, even with a glass or two of water. (The outer boroughs may fare better. I’ve had great diner food on Staten Island, for example).

I don’t have the sentimental attachment to these places because I’m a newcomer to the city. I would still love to see places like Carnegie Deli survive, but ultimately the quality is just not there.

These places are failing the marketplace test, not just because of rising rents, but because they are selling a product that might have worked in the 1970s but is no longer up to par in the 21st century.

Aaron M. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and an economic development columnist for Governing magazine. He focuses on ways to help America’s cities thrive in an ever more complex, competitive, globalized, and diverse twenty-first century. During Renn’s 15-year career in management and technology consulting, he was a partner at Accenture and held several technology strategy roles and directed multimillion-dollar global technology implementations. He has contributed to The Guardian,, and numerous other publications. Renn holds a B.S. from Indiana University, where he coauthored an early social-networking platform in 1991.

Photo Credit: Jtmichcock CC BY-SA 3.0