The schmear is on the way.

Lox too.

And, of course, bagels.

Evanston restaurant owner Jack DeMar is about to open “Mensch’s,” which he calls “a love letter to the Jewish deli.”

Before the details, however, first the terminolgy:

“Schmear” is Yiddish for a spread, usually cream cheese.

Lox is smoked salmon, often served with a schmear.

You know what a bagel is. In Jewish delis, bagels often come with with both cream cheese and lox … in other words, it’s the “whole schmear.”

DeMar owns both the Pono Ono Poke restaurant and the Picnic plant-and-grain eatery, across the street from each other in the 1600 block of Chicago Avenue. Now, DeMar is about to dip back into his family heritage and open “Mensch’s,” a Jewish-style deli.

“Mesch’s” will begin as a pop-up, serving on Saturdays and Sundays from the Picnic location beginning this Saturday, through June 11.

Mensch’s pop-up deli will be located at Picnic on Chicago Avenue.

Long-term, DeMar tells Evanston Now, he’s planning to open a bricks and mortar “Mensch’s” in downtown Evanston.

“Everyone loves a corned beef sandwich or a bagel or matzo ball soup,” he says.

It’s the food DeMar grew up with.

His ancestors were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine. His grandfather owned 20 – 30 DeMar’s Coffee Shops in the area, and his father owned the Oak Tree restaurant in Chicago for 40 years.

While not classical Jewish delis, you could always find Jewish-inspired food on the menu, DeMar says, “like a Reuben sandwich.”

Plus, growing up on the North Shore, with its large Jewish population, DeMar says enjoying Jewish deli food was pretty common.

The pop-up location is basically a trial run, to see which menu items are most popular.

DeMar says he’s almost ready to sign a lease for the permanent location (to be announced), which should open in the spring of 2024.

“There’s a lot of construction to do,” he notes.

The bagels at Mensch’s will come from New York Bagel and Bialy, in Skokie.

However, DeMar and his business partners, Eric Kogan and “Kiki”, of Kiki Bakes Pies (available at “Mensch’s”) just returned from the original source of New York bagels and bialis … New York.

It was a scouting trip for the perfect menu item.

“We hit 15 delis in three days,” DeMar says.

His favorites? PJ Bernstein’s, on 3rd Avenue, and Barney Greengrass (“The Sturgeon King”) on Amsterdam.

And as for the name “Mensch’s”? Well, in Yiddish, a mensch is an honorable person who does the right thing.

The timing for starting the pop-up comes at a very appropriate time, although it’s just a coincidence.

Jews will have just finished celebrating eight days of Passover, where the observant eat unleavend bread called matzah.

Some people love matzah, but to others, it’s like eating wallboard.

So the demand for big, puffy bagels should be pretty strong.

Anyone who can meet that need is truly … a “mensch.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation


  1. Mazel tov to ”Mensch’s”! I’ll be there! I hope that Mr. DeMar considers the following Jewish foods for the menu during his trial run pop-up, if they are not already included. They were staples in my mother’s Ashkenazi kitchen and I still make most of them myself today: kugel, rugelach, tzimmes, latkes, knishes, and kreplach (either in chicken broth as a soup, or fried). I’ll throw in hamantaschen, at least on Purim, as a seasonal item. There are many more, but some of them are less often prepared (cholent) and/or unique to certain palates (chopped liver, gefilte fish, pickled herring), which might not go over well.

    Regarding the name “Mensch’s,” I’ll add that, as a native Yiddish speaker who has done informal translations for friends and acquaintances, the official Yiddish spelling of the word is מענטש, which transliterates as “mentsch,” with a “t.” I realize that “mensch” is often used as the English equivalent, but “mentsch” is authentic. Just a suggestion, if Mr. DeMar reads this comment.

  2. I’m so glad Evanston is getting a deli!
    And glad also that New York Bagel and Bialy’s are going to be served there too…(why re-invent the wheel? A friend from NYC claimed that despite its name, even New York did not have bagels that good!)
    I feel I must also give a nod to a long-time Evanston business, Bagel Art who makes an excellent “Locks” and Bagel sandwich with cucumber and capers. They also use New York Bagels…and you can also get those excellent bagels at D&D on Noyes.

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