Sarge’s, meanwhile, has never enjoyed the same level of buzz as its southern competitor. “They’re sort of the deli under the radar,” Mr. Levine said. “Their fame has never become institutionalized. They’ve never become media darlings.
“The Second Avenue Deli had all the mythology built up around it,” he added. “They got a lot of tourists. I don’t think Sarge’s has ever seen a tourist. Can you imagine a tour bus going to Sarge’s? Not gonna happen.”
Should Sarge’s brace for the worst once the Second Avenue buzz machine finally arrives on 33rd Street?
“I’d be more worried about the Cheesecake Factory moving in a few blocks away, or a Panera Bread, or some other chain,” said David Sax, author of the forthcoming corned-beef-biz chronicle, The Death of Deli. (About a third of which is based on New York City’s deteriorating deli scene, which the writer largely blames on real-estate pressures.)
“You know that another Jewish deli is going to have the same costs, they face the same challenges,” said Mr. Sax, who suggested the dueling delis could actually help each other.
“It could make that neighborhood a destination for delis, in the way that the Lower East Side or the East Village previously was. In that sense, it could be a good thing. If,” he added, “the owners are friendly with each other.”
“I think they’re crazy opening Second Avenue Deli on 33rd and Third,” said Debbie, a nine-year Sarge’s employee, of the looming competition. “It ain’t Second Avenue Deli anymore.
“We’ve been here too long,” she added. “We’re not going anywhere.”
Swatting insects away from his plate of corned beef on Monday night, Sarge’s customer Dean Imperial joked, “You’ll know they’re in trouble when the flies defect.”