Not Jewish-owned, not kosher, but Benji’s keeps slicing | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Not Jewish-owned, not kosher, but Benji’s keeps slicing

SHOREWOOD – Mike Price grew up in New Richmond, a small town in northern Wisconsin. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t a Jewish-style deli scene there.

Later, Price moved to Shorewood with his parents and younger brother, Chris. Despite living in Shorewood, Price had never eaten at the famed Benji’s Deli, which was opened in 1963 by Werner Benjamin.

“I didn’t even know it existed,” Price said.

First corned beef

In 1991, Price was a student at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. He worked at Pete’s Eats, across the street from Benji’s. One day, Pete’s Eats burned down.

“Pete told me to apply for a job at Benji’s,” said Price. “Benji was behind the counter. I said I was looking for a job. He said, ‘What do you do?’ I said, ‘I can cook.’ He gave me a piece of paper and took my name and number. Later, he called me.”

And that’s how Price took the first step toward becoming an owner of Benji’s Deli, even though he had never eaten a corned beef-sandwich before. “I wasn’t even familiar with what it was,” he said.

A brief history of Benji’s Deli

Around 1994, Werner Benjamin sold the restaurant to Warren Blumenthal, Judge Jeffrey Wagner and Howard Sosoff. Under their ownership, a second Benji’s Deli was opened in Fox Point to cater to Jews who’d been moving to the North Shore suburbs over the last few decades.

“They opened the second one in 1996,” Price said. “By that time I was working as the general manager and running both stores.”

In 2006, Benji’s Deli was put up for sale. Price jumped at the chance to buy the restaurants.

“I brought in my brother,” Price said. “He was pretty green, but I trained him.” The two are now co-owners.

Changing clientele, changing menu

Benji’s menu has evolved over the years as its clientele has changed.

“Many of the older Jewish generation who ate at Benji’s have passed away,” Price said. “So items like kishke, well, that was taken off the menu.”

The menu was expanded to include breakfast items. Price indicated he hasn’t been able to find beef bacon anymore.

“So, now we just have pork bacon,” Price said. “But we do have turkey sausage!”

Suffice to say, Benji’s Deli is not kosher certified.

It’s all about the corned beef

One thing that has not changed is the Benji’s famous corned beef.

“With Jewish-style corned beef you cook it until it is super tender and juicy, yet holds together enough so that you can hand-slice it while it’s still hot,” Price said. “Hand-slicing allows you to get a little more thickness to it.”

Price said there are only five Jewish-style delis in the country that still hand-slice corned beef.

Delicious future

Despite having to hold off on opening a Benji’s in Wauwatosa, Price said he and his brother still want to expand in the area.

Although Benji’s is no longer Jewish owned, Price is intimately familiar with Jewish deli-style food.

“Sometimes I feel like I know more about Jewish culinary culture than many Jewish people,” he said.

Price added that Werner Benjamin is still around.

“I think we’ve gotten his blessing,” Price said. “He knows Benji’s is in good hands.”

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Kosher options

Benji’s Deli is not certified kosher. For delicious kosher options, consider these:

  • Adamah Neighborhood Table, 611 Langdon St., Madison. 608-441-1574. com. Offers matzo ball soup, pastrami on rye and other items.
  • Ferrante’s at the JCC – CafA B Data, is at the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center, 6255 N. Santa Monica Blvd. in Whitefish Bay. 414-967-8200. Offering a homemade selection of grill options. Daily specials offered.
  • The Rubenstein Family Kosher Oasis, Ovation Jewish Home, 1410 N. Prospect Ave. 414-277-8813. Offering salad bar, falafel, sandwiches and other items.

Benji’s Deli

  • Benji’s Deli is at 4156 N. Oakland Ave., Shorewood, 414-332-7777, and 8683 N. Port Washington Road, Fox Point, 414-228-5130.