Pitmaster Izzy Eidelman opened his kosher barbecue joint Izzy’s Smokehouse in 2015 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and has been a beloved participant at Brisket King for many years, including a win in 2017. While sister restaurant Izzy’s Taqueria has been shut down during the pandemic, the smokehouse menu has incorporated nachos and tacos alongside the usual barbecue sandwiches and ribs. You can support Izzy’s Smokehouse by visiting in person, ordering online and spreading the word about their traveling food truck. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Food Karma: Did you close down your restaurants?
Izzy Eidelman: Our smokehouse stayed open, but we opened up a taqueria a few years ago alongside the smokehouse and that has pretty much closed down since Covid. We sort of merged some of the taqueria into the smokehouse because it was just too much to keep both of the projects open. It was just too expensive.
FK: Are you offering dine-in, takeout or both?
IE: Obviously, it depends. Pretty much every week there’s a new set of rules, so we’re complying with them. When we can do some dining inside then we do. We sort of changed the whole business
We’re in Crown Heights, and most of our business was destination dining. Now, we’ve transformed. We’re doing delivery all the way out to Baltimore and Cleveland and we’re just trying to survive. The dine in sort of died. Most of the people who came to us were from out of the community, not from Crown Heights or Brooklyn, so we’ve been doing delivery to New Rochelle, to New Jersey and trying to stay in the game with that really. It’s helping us and helping us keep our employees employed but it’s not really what we need to survive.
FK: Were you doing long distance delivery before or is that new for the pandemic?
IE: That’s new. We actually have a food truck, which we took to Cleveland, and we’re doing a lot of drop ship deliveries on our own.
FK: Did you seek that business out or did customers request it?
IE: We were in touch with all our clients and realized that they would love it if we could somehow commute to them. We realized that we were limited in what we could do from our store and went into survival mode. We decided to just bring food to people. Customers were telling us to come to them and we are really trying to stay relevant during all this time.
FK: What have you learned about your business?
IE: I feel like we’re survivors really. I thought originally we were going to have to close down and get rid of all of our employees. Sales haven’t been kind to us or to anybody during this pandemic, but I was able to keep most of our employees employed and didn’t really have to get rid of anybody, which is great. We realized that we’re able to grow our business in new ways. In the past, we would just rely on people coming to our store. Now we’re learning there are other ways for us to survive if need be, but it’s just been very hard.
We’re also very disappointed in New York City and how the mayor and the governor have been treating restaurants in general. We’re very hurt by that and shocked to see that all these other big businesses are able to stay open but us small restaurants are literally left to die and that really turned us off a lot.
We’re getting information but it’s not really helping us. Getting information that we have to close, it’s very nice that you’re sending information, but it’s not the information that we want to hear. The reality is it’s much easier for a small restaurant to control how many people come in than a store like Costco or Walmart with a packed parking lot. Airlines and other big businesses are getting help, and we’re literally left to die.
I guess the biggest thing in all of this is we don’t have any clarity. There’s no solution in terms of funding or what’s going to happen. We’re living day to day, and I’m traveling all over the state trying to do deliveries, trying to survive, stuff I would never have done in the past. We have to work ten times as hard now to make a dollar than we had to before. It’s not like we can do it on a short staff, we still have to have employees. It’s just very hard, brutal.
FK: Do you have hope for the future?
IE: I have a family to provide for so what other choice do I have? That’s the reality.
FK: Is there anything you’re looking forward to?
We’re excited that we are opening up a second Izzy’s Smokehouse location on the Upper West Side, so we’re really excited about that. Seeing people eat out at restaurants with some sort of normalcy without any of these crazy laws to adhere to will just be exciting again and get some of that soul back in New York which the city needs.
Honestly, we want all of this to be over and we want to move forward. We’re really sad to see all these restaurants that are never going to open again and we’re hoping that eventually we can all be open again.