Ken Raskin, proprietor and son of the late Manny, works the rooms, greeting customers who have known him since he was a small boy. Ken feels that part of the secret to his success is being visible to his customers, making sure they are happy and satisfied. Ken’s son Danny, fourth generation, is also full time and help in personally overseeing the daily work of the restaurant. Ken’s wife Patti has also joined in overseeing the custom cookies and bakery.
The family tradition is nothing new at Manny’s. It can be traced back (along with some of the recipes) to the very beginning 75 years ago when Jack Raskin joined his brother Charlie in the first of the Raskin cafeterias located on Van Buren and Halsted streets. The Russian-born brothers specialized in Jewish cooking served up quickly and in large portions – the way Charlie had learned by watching his mother.
Manny’s Coffee Shop & Deli came into being shortly after World War II, when the Raskin brothers split up so that Jack could open his own restaurant on Roosevelt Road near the open-air market area known as Maxwell Street. The restaurant property Jack bought had been originally named Sunny’s. So rather than tear down the old sign and get a whole new one, Jack named it after his teenage son,
Emanuel (or Manny, to family and friends), saving money by simply buying two letters and replacing the “Su” in Sunny’s with “Ma.”
It was a shoestring operation at first, with Manny serving as the cook (he had learned by watching his uncle). The address changed a few times, and then in 1964 Manny’s moved to its current spot on Jefferson Street. Ken remembers his father saying, “I know what the people around here want, and I’m the only one left who can do it.”
Even when Manny’s opened its location 52 years ago, it was among the last of the unique style of urban eatery – the home style, family-run cafeteria bubbling with the spirit of its neighborhood and attracting patrons from all walks of life. In those early years, if you lived or worked anywhere in the vicinity you could hitch a ride on the Manny’s van that circled around making deliveries and picking up customers for lunch.
Still, to get the full effect of the rich history surrounding Manny’s you have to view the dining room walls decorated with news clippings, reviews, snapshots, and memorabilia demonstrating how deeply Chicagoans treasure this historic restaurant – as a place to eat and meet, and as a memento of downtown as it was a half century ago, a relic of the past.