The conclusions drawn from all the sources about Sy Ginsberg are these: He is a consummate deli man, and a lot of people consider his corned beef to be most tasty.
I ask you — who doesn’t like a good corned beef on rye? Of course, one’s choice of corned beef is much like one’s choice of wine. We all have our favorites. Personally, along with thousands and thousands of other aficionados, I prefer that my sandwich be made with Detroit’s own Sy Ginsberg Corned Beef (disclaimer: No offense intended to any other corned beef).
My catalyst for this Looking Back is a recent interview with Ginsberg from the Times of Israel. Inspired to learn more, I also did my research in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History to see what I could find on Ginsberg. The conclusions drawn from all the sources about Sy Ginsberg are these: He is a consummate deli man, and a lot of people consider his corned beef to be most tasty.
One might say that Ginsberg’s career began when his Orthodox Russian immigrant father met his mother from Kentucky. She was working in a deli. Sy attended Yeshiva Beth Yehudah in Metro Detroit and began his own professional deli training in 1960 when, at age 15, he obtained a part-time job at Leo’s Deli in Downtown Detroit.
Ginsberg was an ambitious deli entrepreneur. He and a partner opened “Mister Deli” in 1968. It soon became a tremendously popular deli, even if it only had 35 seats. Ginsberg then opened the larger, locally famous Pickle Barrel Deli in Southfield in 1975.
However, Ginsberg was still not satisfied, especially with the meats and corned beef that he desired. So, he sold the Pickle Barrel in 1981 and began curing meats in the backroom of a butcher shop in Pontiac.
Ginsberg then founded United Meat and Deli in 1982 and concentrated on wholesale distribution of his prepared meats. It began as a one-person operation. Ginsberg cured the corned beef and delivered it from his Volkswagen.
One of Ginsberg’s first customers was the fledgling Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor. He helped out Zingerman’s at lunch hour, showing the owners and staff how to make sandwiches. Ginsberg built the first sandwich sold to a customer at Zingerman’s.
Sy Ginsberg Corned Beef was a big hit. Not only Zingerman’s, but soon the Stage Deli, Steve’s Deli, the Hy-Grade Deli, the Bread Basket, the Russell Street Deli and many others featured — and still do — the famous corned beef. “Where’s the Corned Beef” in the Nov. 11, 2013, JN cites a few customers. Retail supermarkets such as Kroger, Busch’s and Holiday Markets followed the lead of Metro Detroit delis and stocked their meat counters with Sy Ginsberg Corned Beef.
Today, Sy Ginsberg Corned Beef can be found around the nation. Thousands of pounds of it, as well as other processed meats from United Meat and Deli Inc., are shipped out every week. In 2017, E.W. Grobbel, a Detroit-based food company since 1883, also headquartered in Detroit’s famous Eastern Market, acquired Untied Meat and Deli. Grobbel’s has maintained the production of Ginsberg’s famous corned beef.
Sy Ginsberg Corned Beef appears on many pages in the Davidson Archives. One measure of tribute to the meat might be the eight Danny Raskin “Best of Everything” columns that mention the corned beef. One column is an ode to “the Deli Legend” (June 2, 2016).
OK — now I’m really hungry.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.