Photo of babka ice cream sandwiches courtesy of On Rye
Photo of babka ice cream sandwiches courtesy of On Rye

First time restaurant owner Ilyse Fishman Lerner grew up in Boca Raton, Florida—home of grandparents and Jewish delis. “I got my deli education down there,” she says. But it took a while for Fishman to return to her deli-loving roots. The 31-year-old spent much of her professional career as a corporate lawyer before making the leap to the hospitality industry.

“It’s tough when you work all weekend and then they tell you the deal’s done—nothing you did really mattered,” she explains. “It’s so much more satisfying to make someone’s day with a small gesture.” 

Fishman Lerner is gearing up to open On Rye, a modern sandwich shop by Verizon Center before the end of the year. Her husband, Jonathan Lerner, serves as co-founder and is helping the project come to fruition. In preparation for the launch, they’ve been popping up at Nationals Park all season with four items, which will also be on the On Rye menu: a Wagyu corned beef reuben, a vegetarian reuben, a chicken salad sandwich, and babka ice cream sandwiches.

Storefront photo courtesy of On Rye

The babka ice cream sandwiches have become a bit of a social media sensation with their marbled coffee cake bread filled with Dolci Gelati gelato, but Fishman Lerner wants people to know there’s much more to On Rye. “Right now we’re like, ‘we’re more than just babkas!’”

One of Fishman Lerner’s biggest goals with On Rye is to refine and “trim down” Jewish cuisine, which she’ll do by shrinking sandwiches and cutting salt. “We want to cut the portion sizes, not in a dramatic way, but that Carnegie Deli style of sandwich, people don’t want to eat multiple times a week,” she says. “Meat is expensive and it should be revered and treated as something special.”

Also big on sustainability and cutting down on food waste, Fishman Lerner is creatively sourcing the Wagyu brisket used to make reubens. She’s using a commissary that gets brisket meat from steakhouses that are more interested in the tenderloin. “I constantly look back to the Jewish deli tradition—the way the food got started—it really was for people that couldn’t afford the prime cuts.”

The drink program will consist of a small wine and beer list, plus classic egg creams. They’ll include an explainer of sorts for folks who order the egg cream because a lot of people don’t understand that there’s no cream, nor egg in an egg cream. Rather, it’s U-Bet chocolate syrup, milk, and seltzer.

Located next to Chinatown Express, On Rye will have 60 coffeehouse-style seats (including some bar stools). Fishman Lerner says they expect to do a lot of to-go orders, and the sandwich shop will follow a casual, Shake Shack-style ordering system. They plan to serve lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Expect an opening date before 2016 comes to an end.

On Rye, 740 6th St. NW;