David Manheim claims to be the only Jewish employee on a staff full of Dominicans at the legendary kosher-style Katz’s Delicatessen on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The frustrated entertainer decided to combine his day job and his showbiz aspirations with a blog and YouTube series, both titled “The Last Jewish Waiter.”
In his writing and on-screen appearances, Manheim exudes an instantly recognizable persona: the grumpy New York server who hates his customers and co-workers, but just might be lost without them.
“You got roast beef? That was your mistake,” he tells a customer in the first episode, entitled “Welcome to my Hell,” which was posted to YouTube in May. He then tells the woman she should have ordered corned beef or pastrami.
In another video, he plays a trivia game where customers can win free food for which Manheim must pay. He gripes, but seems gleeful about mixing things up at work.
Manheim also writes on his website that his show will feature celebrity interviews conducted while simultaneously waiting tables. So far, he seems to have filmed only one, chatting with actor Joe Gannascoli, best known as Vito Spatafore on “The Sopranos.”
The videos also feature all-too-fleeting shots of razor sharp knives carving up glistening hunks of Katz’s meat.
Manheim’s blog has been a little quiet lately, but he has also been contributing as “The Last Jewish Waiter” to Heeb magazine. This week, he provided a profile of Ismael, a 50-something waiter at Katz’s, and apparently one of the few other non-Dominicans (he’s Egyptian).
The gruff Jewish waiter was once an urban institution, immortalized in pop culture and an entire subcategory of Jewish jokes. But a combination of changing demographics has made the Jewish waiter an endangered species. Perhaps most relevantly, the delis where he most often plied his trade have been shuttering at record rates.
However, a new generation of Jewish cuisine has been rising. Manheim and the rest of us will have to wait and see if a new generation of Jewish waiter rises with it.