Houston Business Journal – Face To Face With Barry Katz, Owner Of Katz’s Deli & Bar
Barry Katz recalls watching his grandfather lean over the glass counter at his New York City deli to greet customers, an apron wrapped tightly around his waist. The aroma of fresh corned beef hung in the air.
Years later, Katz’s father opened the first Katz’s Deli & Bar in Austin on Sixth Street in 1979, which eventually closed in 2011. Hanging out at the iconic Austin eatery piqued Katz’s fascination with the restaurant business and fed the idea of opening his own.
Katz, now the owner of the 13-year-old Katz’s Deli & Bar on 616 Westheimer St. near Montrose, along with a Katz’s Express location in Conroe, said the company had one of its best years in 2012. So good, in fact, he has plans to expand and is scouting for a new Express location in the region.
“That’s an indicator of how we think 2013 is going to be for us. Our immediate growth will be in Houston but long term will be in the other major markets in Texas,” he said.
When he watches his two young daughters play in the restaurant, Katz says he knows things have come full circle.
“As a kid, I enjoyed learning to work, learning to wash dishes, being at the restaurant, learning to cook, just participating. My mom and dad always made it seem like fun. I wasn’t forced into it, it was more of an attraction,” he said. “My two girls love coming to the restaurant. I have no idea if they will go into the business, it’s too soon to tell, but right now, it’s like Disney World to them just like it was for me.”
Katz sat down with Houston Business Journal reporter Shaina Zucker to discuss his restaurant career and how his grandparents paved the way for his success.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
I’m absolutely passionate about the job, and I love people. I love the fact that it’s different every day. Being a restaurateur in this day and age is about being an entrepreneur, which I love. I enjoy being able to work on new menu items, doing marketing and managing. My day is constantly broken up, and I get to work on different projects.
Who’s the most interesting person to walk into your deli?
I’ve met the mayor, (Texas Gov.) Rick Perry, the former CEO of Continental Airlines, Tilman Fertitta (of Landry’s). When the Super Bowl was here, we met so many of the players. They always make their way to Katz’s.
Why keep the restaurant open 24 hours?
Actually, my dad did that in Austin. After two or three years, we were open until 2 or 3 in the morning. We’d also be open for breakfast at 8 or 9 in the morning. We were practically open 24 hours, so the demand was there.
What’s your favorite menu item?
Reuben sandwich. We do that better than anybody.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
A restaurateur in Austin many years ago told me to try to find the balance between personal time, and family time and work time. It’s never the kind of thing where you say, ‘I got it’ because the moment you think you’ve got it, it can elude you at that point. You have to continue every day to wake up and try to find the balance.
Who is your personal hero?
It’s a tie. It would really be both of my grandfathers. Both of them came as immigrants to this country. They were able to rise up and help their kids and grandkids to be successful — that’s the American Dream. And being able to do that, I think, makes you a hero. You meet a lot of people in this country who aren’t from here, and you see what challenges they face.
What is the best decision you’ve ever made?
Professionally, coming to Houston to open this restaurant. It’s a huge challenge, but a huge opportunity. Houston has been really good to me. It’s very embracing, and filled with wonderful people. Being a restaurateur is like being an artist, and Houston likes my art.