If there’s one thing missing from Evanston’s food culture, it’s a traditional Jewish deli. Pono Ono and Picnic owner Jack DeMar and his partners, Eric Kogan and Kiki Eliopoulos, have filled this culinary void with Mensch’s Deli, a pop-up bagel shop downtown.

Mensch’s opens on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. from April 15 until June 11 out of DeMar’s Picnic storefront. The pop-up features bagel sandwiches ranging from the classic bacon egg and cheese to the “veggie bagel,” a combination of scallion cream cheese, capers, herbs, onion, cucumber and heirloom tomato. Mensch’s also serves bagels with butter or cream cheese, freshly squeezed orange juice, hot coffee, cold brew and a variety of Eliopoulos’s homemade pastries. Two weeks after their opening, the team reflected on Mensch’s. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Where did the idea for Mensch’s pop-up come from?

DeMar: I’ve wanted to do something the scale of this pop-up for a long time. I thought it'd be really fun and simple to open a hole-in-the-wall bagel shop for Evanston. I thought about somewhere on Noyes Street, maybe close to the students where they can come in the mornings or weekend morning and just like get a quick bagel, sandwich and coffee. I did see a need for a bagel shop in Evanston, especially for the students. But I think there's a huge Jewish population in Evanston and the surrounding suburbs and just having some good bagels and lox is something that anyone can get on board with.

Maya Benjamin

What is the goal of this pop-up?

DeMar: This pop-up is our way of dipping our toes in the water and seeing how it feels and works, what people like, what they don't like and testing out some of the items.

Kogan: I think in the short term, the goal is to just build the brand and get brand recognition with the Evanston population, businesses, schools and students. And to generally get feedback on the product and what people are looking for. We've heard that everybody loves bagels, but it's hard to get a good bagel that's done right in Evanston. And that's what we're trying to accomplish. But it's hard to do that without getting feedback from the community. So that's the idea over the next couple of months - just show you what we're thinking about and we’ll see how you guys feel!

Maya Benjamin

What is unique about Mensch’s?

DeMar: We're serving all our bagel sandwiches open-faced because I have a big problem with taking a bite of a bagel sandwich. I think the eatability and the ratio are wrong. And it is just nicer when you can see what's on the bagel. I think that's going to distinguish us a little bit— you'll be able to see what’s on the bagel, it’s a nicer bite and you can actually put the thing in your mouth. We're trying to be really traditional and classic but have a little bit of fun.”

Rumor has it the coffee is only 99 cents. Is this true?

Kogan: Everybody loves coffee and everybody wants to pay a dollar for coffee.

DeMar: We wish we could charge deli prices as they were 50 years ago, but we can’t. But coffee, we can give that up for fun and keep it under a buck. We want to caffeinate the entire Northwestern population.

Do you have any plans for a permanent Mensch's Deli?

Kogan: I think the goal of Mensch’s is to be all-encompassing all day, every day, which is different from Pono and Picnic. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, seven days a week is the idea.

DeMar: We are trying to look at it from the branding to the food and feel. Someone who's been eating at delis their whole life would walk in and not feel out of place and feel comfortable and at home, like “this is the deli I know.” So we don't want to go crazy new-age with the menu or the brand and just keep it really homey and familiar and comfortable. My customer base [at picnic] and at Pono is a certain demographic, it tends a lot younger; it's a lot of students. There's not a handful of big families coming in or younger people. We’re hoping with bagels, and eventually deli sandwiches and a big bakery program, we're gonna get the kids and the families and the grandparents and the kind of food that everybody eats. I don't think our grandparents want to have a Poke bowl on the weekend, but they would definitely have a lox and bagel platter.

How has the pop-up been going thus far?

DeMar: The pop-up has been a huge hit! [The second] weekend was even busier than the first- it was great to see that the buzz hadn’t worn off after the craziness of the first week. In addition to some reorganizing of our line and stations, our team is just getting quicker as we get more practice making the bagels. We’ve sold over 1,200 bagels over the first four days, three of which were cold or rainy days! We can’t wait to see how many bagels we can make on a nice sunny Saturday.

All photos courtesy of Jack DeMar.