MEQUON – One reality of keeping glatt kosher in a world that mostly doesn’t is a very limited selection of options for dining out. That selection recently expanded by one with the opening of The Deli on the Crown at the Joseph and Rebecca Peltz Center for Jewish Life.
Rabbi Moshe and Sheina Luchins weren’t thinking about becoming restauranteurs when they moved to the Milwaukee area three years ago. As community engagement directors at the Peltz Center, their job was to connect with area Jews and bring more Yiddishkeit to their lives.
Food was a natural starting point.
“We started ‘Taste of Kosher’ at local grocery stores,” Moshe Luchins said. “Basically, we offered a taste of matzah ball soup or fresh challah, and we met a lot of people that way, Jewish and non-Jewish.”
But people wanted more than a taste, something the couple hadn’t anticipated. As they learned more about the area, particularly its summer array of ethnic festivals, an idea occurred. Why not a Jewish Food Festival? The first one, in Virmond Park, attracted some 3,500 attendees over a two-day run.
“We were blown away,” Luchins said. The festival was the first time he recalled someone asking him why there wasn’t a kosher deli in town. It wasn’t the last. People he encountered in in various settings lamented insufficient access to New York-style pastrami and potato knishes.
And Luchins said many asked the same question: “Why do we have to wait until summer to get this?”
When the couple’s work was forcibly transformed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, they began working on what eventually became The Deli on the Crown. The goal was to provide a place for community members – regardless of kashrut level or religious practice – to connect over a good meal in a setting where saying the Birkat HaMazon after a meal didn’t attract attention and not saying it didn’t attract judgement.
Sheina Luchins developed a menu featuring classic deli fare – sandwiches include corned beef on rye, pastrami, turkey, potato knishes, matzah ball and mushroom barley soups. They redesigned the space next to the Crown Judaica store, opting for an industrial vibe. The deli seats between 25 and 30 people and features a community table made of wood from a reclaimed bowling alley. When closed, the space will serve as programming or study space. Recently, they hired a chef, Esmeralda Duran, who is working to refine and expand the menu. Along with Luchins and Duran, two other employees staff the deli.
“Paninis are a newer thing and really nice,” Moshe Luchins said, “because the meat is heated up in the middle and the bread is toasted outside, so you get that crunch on the outside with softness in the middle.”
The Deli on the Crown is open from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Thursday at 2233 W. Mequon Road for dine-in or carry-out. Deli on the Crown is part of the Peltz Center and is affiliated with Chabad of Wisconsin. It is certified kosher.
The Jewish Food Festival, also a Chabad of Wisconsin project, was cancelled last year on account of the pandemic. It will be held from noon-7 p.m. Aug. 1 and 2 at Rotary Park at 4100 W. Highland Road in Mequon.
In addition to traditional Jewish fare, there will be entertainment, including a Klezmer band and other live performers. Along with art and other activities for children, there will be a petting zoo featuring kosher animals.
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Deli on the Crown
2233 W. Mequon Road, Mequon
11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Thursday