June 15, 2015 by Speakers' Spotlight
Q&A: Zane Caplansky on his passion for the deli trade and becoming part of people’s lives
Zane Caplansky was born to own a deli. Now one of Canada’s most successful and well-known restaurateurs, Zane’s path to smoked-meat success was a haphazard one. With jobs along the way that included acting as a political assistant, becoming a business consultant, and owning an e-learning dot com, it was his insatiable craving for the perfect sandwich that finally saw him shifting his course to realize a dream he wasn’t completely aware he even had. Sharing his inspiring story of how he found and followed his passion, Zane helps audiences ignite the spark of success in their own lives. Zane is a character in Erik Anjou’s documentary Deli Man. The Globe and Mail spoke with Zane about the crazy characters, famous customers and the rewards that come with corned beef:
Given the Jewish deli legends shown in the film Deli Man, how did feel when you watched yourself up there on the screen?
To be documented that way, to have what I’ve done and worked for captured on the permanency of film, it’s just such a thrill. To be included with all the crazy characters, and all those legendary delis, and the celebrities like Larry King and Alan Dershowitz, I’m just so blessed.
Any celebrities pop into your deli?
Chris Hadfield comes in quite a bit. [Rush singer-bassist and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer] Geddy Lee is on our menu. Geddy, when he comes into the restaurant, would always ask me to make him the same dish his father would make for him when he was a little boy, which is fried salami with eggs, with some salmon on top. I named it The Geddy.
Rush has two shows at Air Canada Centre coming up, on June 17 and 19. Are you a fan?
Growing up in North York in the eighties, you couldn’t go to a party or bar mitzvah without hearing an album like Moving Pictures. And now to have Geddy walk in and say “hey Zane” to me it’s a mind-blowing experience.
One of the themes of Deli Man is the dwindling number of Jewish delis in North America. Do you have to be a little meshuga to get into the deli trade?
You have to be crazy to go into the restaurant business. The margins are very thin. The business is notoriously fickle and to have longevity is a very rare thing. But sometimes there’s no accounting for passion.
What’s the attraction for you?
You become, in the deli business, part of people’s lives. When somebody is born, you call the deli. And when somebody dies, you call the deli. Everywhere in life’s adventure, in between, we become a part of it. It’ll be on the sidelines feeding people, but we get to watch these things. We get to celebrate and commiserate with people.
When you were a kid, you used to go for corned beef and cream sodas with your grandfather, to Switzer’s Deli when it was on Spadina Avenue. What do you think now, when you see little Zane Caplanskys coming into your own deli?
You know what’s wonderful? When a parent says to a child, “It’s your birthday, you can go wherever you want to go,” and that kid chooses to come to my restaurant. There’s nothing that beats that feeling of knowing that of all the places a person could have chosen, there’s something about what I do and what I’ve built that this young person wants to celebrate with. It truly is a blessing.