New York City has a pastrami problem—and we're not talking about how our doctors would like us to eat less of it. It appears that brisket prices have risen so much in the past few years that area eateries are having to rethink their menus by either removing brisket-based dishes from the menu or passing along the cost to customers. The Times spoke to several area restaurants about feeling the pastrami pinch and how this historically inexpensive cut of meat has been a big headache when it's time to pay the distributor.
Up in the Bronx, baseball season favorite Yankee Tavern has had to increase the price of their pastrami sandwich by $3 to $12.95 because the supplier bumped up prices by more than $4 per pound in the past year. "I could keep buying a lower quality for $5, but I won't do that," explained owner Joe Bastone.
The same is true a bit farther north at Liebman's Kosher Delicatessan, where prices were also bumped up last year. "Our suppliers are killing us, so we raised prices about eight months ago," says manager Art Rabin. "Every few months, we get a letter that the price is going up."
Katz's Delicatessen owner Jake Dell felt the same pinch and raised prices on all of the restaurant's beef products by $1 about five months ago. "It was going up week over week. Six, seven, eight percent on raw costs. So you couldn't... like oh my god, that's another thirty thousand a day," he told us. "You look at it and you start freaking out. You're like, 'Oh my god, this is unreal.'"
So what's to blame for this assault on NYC's pride and joy? "Drought has put cattle inventory at its lowest level in 60 years," according to Gary Morrison, a beef price researcher. The severe droughts that have contributed to increases in things like coffee, vegetables and of course meat have driven up brisket prices nearly 69% since 2013.
However, Dell says that prices have actually started to normalize. "[The Times article] was probably a better fit for about three months ago when it was at an all-time high," he says. "So this was a problem that we all knew about, that was forth-coming for a long time. And it takes a while for cattle to really drive the prices back down."
But more than anything, Dell takes umbrage with the provenance of pastrami as outlined in the article. "Bottom line is certainly brisket prices have gone through the roof, navel prices have gone through the roof," he says. However: "Brisket is not pastrami. They're two very different things."