A chance encounter at a children’s park in the Triangle led to the only operating Jewish deli in Wake county. As Mookie’s New York Deli owner Ron Didner tells it, he and wife Nina were watching their young child play when a woman noticed the Didner’s not-from-around-here accents. When they told her they were from New York, she recounted the time when she was 18 and spent time in Hoboken. Ron says, “She said, ‘There was this thing called pastrami, and I haven’t really found it here in the last few decades.’” That’s when Nina turned to him and said, “Just open up a deli.”
Mookie’s Deli opened in Cary, North Carolina, in July 2020. The Didners agreed on the lease at 1010 Tryon Village Drive, one day before Governor Roy Cooper shut down all the restaurants in the state. Mookie’s found a way to survive though, and will celebrate its second anniversary this year.
Ron grew up eating at famous Manhattan delis like Katz’s, Carnegie, and Barney Greengrass. He also spent time at the Culinary Institute of America and working at restaurants around New York, like Café des Artistes, before moving his family to the Triangle. “A deli really isn’t what I’ve done in the past,” says Ron, “I mean, I think we’re the only deli that has a wine list. I don’t many people that will pair a knish with a gewurztraminer, but we will.”
In addition to those knishes, Mookie’s offers traditional Jewish fare like latkes and brisket, and this time of year, it includes a Passover menu for those observing the holiday. In 2021, Judea Reform Congregation in Durham asked Ron if he could pull together Seder plates for their community, because members of the synagogue were having trouble sourcing the items for the tradition. The Passover menu, which also included matzo ball soup and chopped chicken liver, was so popular that Mookie’s offered it again this year. The full menu is posted online right now.