Pastrami on rye. Potato knishes. Chicken matzoh ball soup. Meshugana Deli isn’t your typical lunch spot. The New York style deli, which opened in November in Gulf Gate, has quickly become Sarasota’s hotspot for Jewish delicatessen-style eats. The secret to their newfound success? The people behind the counter.

Meshugana Deli–named after the yiddish word for crazy, as in “crazy delicious”—is the brainchild of husband and wife team, Adam and Liz Woldman, two New York City transplants who were looking to bring a taste of home to the Gulf Coast. Although Meshugana is the first deli they’ve opened together, providing scratch-made food to the people around them isn’t anything new. Adam is a lifelong chef who has worked in kitchens for over 40 years and Liz has carved out a career of her own in the professional catering industry. “Adam’s Jewish and I’m 100 percent Irish-Catholic,” says Liz Woldman with a laugh. “I’m the sensible one and he’s the creative genius. From a young age, he always wanted to be a chef. He spent his childhood cooking with his mother and grandmother, learning about the traditional Jewish recipes and food.”

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

Their path to opening Meshugana Deli started, unbeknownst to them, in 2018 when they moved to Sarasota and Adam became the executive chef at Temple Sinai. Soon, word began to get out about his cooking. “He started to really build a following down here from the Friday night services. It’s a very secular community—if one person claims to have the best chef, then people fall in line like dominoes to eat the food,” says Liz. “People were literally joining the temple because of his food.”

That following only grew during the pandemic, when the Woldman’s were serving “Shabbat in a Box” meals out of their driveway. “There would be 100, 200 people all lining up to be served dinners,” says Liz.  “We’d stand there in our masks handing out their orders in 90 degree heat.” However, the fever dream was short-lived. Reality set in as the Woldman’s went back to their normal lives. The pandemic had hit everyone hard, the Temple Sinai closed temporarily, and Adam went to work as an executive chef at an assisted living facility. 

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

But still, there was a spark. The fire had been lit, the idea rolling around in the Woldman’s heads for months. “He had been saying ‘this is what I want to do’ and I’d kept telling him no, but finally one day I conceded, and said ‘if not now, when?’ And that was it,” says Liz. “We found a shared commercial kitchen in Gulf Gate through a friend, signed a lease in August, and opened in late October. On day one I think he sold 100 sandwiches.”