The chef and general manager of Goldbergs' Deli says he's getting "very close" to recreating a New York City-style ambiance at the Bellevue restaurant.
"We are very, very close," says Khaled Attia, who joined the Goldbergs' team in 2005.
Attia had spent two decades in the New York deli business when he forwarded his resume to the just-opened Goldbergs'. The famed Second Avenue Deli, where Attia then worked, was plotting a move after losing its lease, and Attia wasn't keen on sticking around for the transition.
"I went on the Internet looking for a job," he recalls. "I hear Seattle is a beautiful place to be. I came in, had an interview and I say, OK, I'm going to give you a couple of weeks."
The shift from New York to Seattle was dramatic, Attia says.
"It's like coming from a market into a library," he says of the citywide hush.
Attia was born in Alexandria, Egypt. A fellow Egyptian recruited him for a job at a kosher deli.
"He was not the only Egyptian guy there," Attia says. "I found about seven or eight Egyptians. The New York delis now, they are all Egyptian. If you don't find an Egyptian as manager, you find an Egyptian as counter guy."
According to Attia, the typical Egyptian personality is a good match for Jewish deli culture. While most Egyptians weren't raised on corned beef and pastrami - although rolled cabbage and chopped beef liver are Egyptian standards - Attia says their love of spirited conversation meshes seamlessly with the traditional deli ethos.
"We like to talk loud, we like to argue, and that's what's going on in a deli," Attia says. "In New York, they talk not about food even. A customer comes in for a hot dog and spends an hour, talking. I said, this feels like home."
When Attia was put in charge of Goldbergs', he first tended to the menu, forging relationships with vendors he knew from New York. He now buys his smoked fish, rugelach and black-and-white cookies from purveyors back in Brooklyn. But he also wanted to transform Goldbergs' gestalt, making it a restaurant where eaters were as likely to come for a kibitz as a knish. He planted a pickle barrel in the dining room and talked endlessly with customers.
"I would like customers to just come in and talk to me and leave," Attia says. "They don't have to buy anything."
Attia's mission might be helped by Egyptian staffers, but he says he hasn't had any luck hiring other Egyptians.
"I tried, but there is not much Egyptians around here," he says. "If you know anyone, send him to me."