Ben’s In the News
When you think of Hebrew National, don't just think hot dogs. The wide array of Hebrew National fresh meats take center plate at some of the country's most successful restaurants. Ask owner and founder of Ben's Kosher Delicatessen Restaurant & Caterers, Ronnie Dragoon... read more
Stephanie Schandler, Long Island Grocery Examiner, dishes on her holiday favorites with some tips from Ben's!
A kosher deli in Brooklyn known for its homestyle cooking is gearing up for Rosh Hashanah with a special deal that is sure to impress. NY1's Michelle Park filed the following report. Click here to view the NY1 Ben's Rosh Hashanah Catering video.
Your foremothers may have slaved over a hot stove to put chicken soup on the shabbes table every Friday night, but all you gotta do is answer your doorbell.
Ben's Kosher Deli is now offering free delivery service... READ MORE
IN THE SEATS Three generations of women in a rear booth: Sarah Kaye, 90, who grew up the youngest of seven children in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and raised her own three in a Bayside co-op; her daughter, Carol Flaumenbaum, 63; and Ms. Flaumenbaum's two daughters, who both married Irishmen and were glad to take their names. "Ugh, did I get tortured in school," recalled one, Lori Donahue, 36. "They called me Waldbaum's, you name it."
ON THE PLATES Four lunch specials ($9.99 including soup, pickles, coleslaw and coffee): stuffed cabbage for Mrs. Kaye, two sliced turkey platters and one hot open turkey sandwich without bread. "I just didn't feel like bread," Ms. Donahue explained. The group made easy work of the pickles and slaw and finished with tea. There was plenty of meat left for doggie bags.
WHY THEY CAME Ms. Donahue, a lifelong Long Islander, was scheduled to move to Port St. Lucie, Fla. Her husband, a police detective who is retiring, wants to see the Mets in spring training there; she would like to adopt a child. The cars and the moving van were packed, and Ms. Donahue was sad and anxious.
WHAT THEY TALKED ABOUT "You see how puffy my eyes are?" Ms. Donahue said. "That's from crying and not sleeping." Her sister, Robyn Casey, 40, tried to cheer her up: "They say that in Florida, happy hour starts at 4:30."
Their wise, even-keeled grandmother piped up. "Listen, it's an adjustment — anytime you move, it's an adjustment," she said. "When I moved to Bayside, it was an adjustment." When the check came, Mrs. Kay took it and adjusted her credit card into the portfolio.
ALL TOGETHER NOW From left: Robyn Casey, Sarah Kaye, Lori Donahue and Carol Flaumenbaum.
Noel Weinstock says for a psychological pick-me-up, he heads to his neighborhood, New York-style deli... where enjoying a good pastrami and rye is always kosher. It's a great blend of modern chic decor with traditional Yiddish sensibilities. It's in Boca Raton and it's called Ben's of Boca Raton.
From Baldwin, L.I. to Boca Raton, FL, people craving New York-style kosher delicatessen have been flocking to Ben's Deli. Recently however, Bayside latke-lovers learned that the Ben's in Bay Terrace might be leaving.
It seems that Ben's and Cord Meyer Development LLC, the owner of the Bay Terrace shopping center, were not on the same page in negotiating a new lease.
"I went to them a year-and-a-half before my lease expired to talk about a new one," said Ronnie Dragoon, co-founder of the chain of seven delis in New York and Florida. "They said 'we don't do that' and said we'd talk six months before (the expiration date)."
What happened next depends on who's telling you.
According to Dragoon, the landlord came back with an offer that nearly doubled the yearly rent and charges, to well over $600,000 a year. "I'd lose money the first year," he said. "I made a counter-offer and they never got back to me," the deli-man continued.
"About a month ago somebody from Hebrew National called me and said, 'How do you like what the landlord did to you?'" Dragoon recalled. "That's how I found out they had rented to a new tenant – I felt like I got punched in the stomach."
The future occupant of the location, on the main level of the complex, is Panera Bread, a Missouri-based public corporation with almost 1,200 stores in 40 states. They have 10 corporate or franchise locations in the city and on Long Island, with one that opened in Long Island City last October.
Cord Meyer remembers the negotiations differently, saying in a statement that they, "contacted Ben's Deli well in advance of the lease expiration, and had begun talks on a renewal lease for the existing store premises."
The statement continues, "There were many components that were involved; however, the major factor that led Cord Meyer to its decision had to do more with the length of time that Ben's wanted for its lease renewal based on Ben's concerns regarding a changing demographic in the surrounding community."
Dragoon called the statement "not entirely accurate." He admitted that rather than another 15-year lease, he asked for 10 years "with two five-year renewal options." He said that he's been negotiating similar terms when leases at his other locations come up for renewal.
"Deli isn't a very high-markup business,so I want more flexibility," he said adding, "You can't deny the demographics are changing – maybe for the better."
Mary Hughes, a spokesperson for Cord Meyer recalled, "they wanted a short-term lease," citing five years with options, rather than 10. "That was too much uncertainty for us." She pointed out that Dragoon's associate was their contact, though he was "definitely involved."
Uncertainty barely describes how the employees at Ben's are feeling.
Assistant Manager Helen Devine of Astoria is "one of the originals." She said the customers and staff are "like an extended family."
"Customers have parties here after a wedding or a bris. They order for holidays. At the end, when we don't see their names on an order, we know something happened," she recounted, her voice trailing off.
Store manger Oscar Molina started as a busboy over 10 years ago. He put up a sign asking customers to go to bat for Ben's. When they started calling his boss, the sign was changed, giving them Cord Meyer's phone number.
Hughes and Dragoon agree that they are trying to work something out – a new location on the upper level by the movie theater. The rent would be comparable to what Ben's pays now, but for 20 percent less space. Hurt feelings aside, both say the negotiations are "amicable."
The children at the Central Synagogue of Nassau County in Rockville Centre spent the last week readying for Passover, complete with a model seder, in anticipation of the real thing at sunset today.
"We do it at their level with stories and singing and learning about the foods and sampling them," said Rabbi Marc Gruber. "It's a pre-festival festival."
The wait, however, is over as Jews across Long Island will sit down to seder Saturday night. The holiday lasts for eight days and begins with the ritual meal of special foods, arranged on a special plate, that recall the Jews' exodus from Egypt.
Passover is one of the most important of the Jewish holy days and also one of the most home-centered, local Jewish leaders have said. At the Ben's Kosher Deli Restaurants in Long Island, Queens and Manhattan, caterers have filled hundreds of orders for the holiday meal. The restaurants will close for Passover.
Ronnie Dragoon, Founder of Ben's NY Kosher Deli, sets a Passover seder table.
"We are feeding well in excess of 30,000 people," said Ronnie Dragoon, owner and founder of Ben's NY Kosher Delis. "It is a time for family to be together... Even for Jews who are not religious and don't celebrate any of the holidays find that Passover is the time to be with family." Brisket and potato kugel are among the most popular items ordered at Ben's. And the restaurant has also sold hundreds of prepared seder plates.
Along with the family meal, there is also a moral responsibility associated with Passover, Gruber said. He planned to urge Jews at temple services to invite another "guest" to the seder table by estimating the cost of feeding one more person to dinner and then donating that money to charity.
"God tells us to protect the most vulnerable people in society..." Gruber said, adding that, "Passover probably resonates message-wise with people as deep a way as any of the holidays. The narrative of the exodus and of gaining freedom from oppression and the moral responsibility that goes on with that, has been formative in shaping who we are as Jews."
Ben’s Deli: This Boca Raton location of the New York-based chain is as good a kosher delicatessen as you'll find in South Florida, if not all of the United States. Come here for all the favorites, from corned beef sandwiches to chicken in the pot. 9942 Clint Moore Road; (561) 470-9963.
Ben’s Kosher Deli in Greenvale — “The best of the Ben’s,” according to one guest — opened its doors on Oct. 1 for an all-you-can-eat, prix fixe dinner to help those who can not dine so freely.
The entire proceeds of the $54-per-person tab will benefit the Long Island-based Interfaith Nutrition Network (INN), which runs 19 soup kitchens, three emergency shelters and 25 units of long-term housing. According to an INN spokesperson, the evening raised $7,500 to help those in need.
The crowd enjoyed an evening that was a mixture of plentiful food and talk about a serious problem that “you don’t see as visible on Long Island as in the city,” said Cynthia Sucich, the INN director of communications.
Len and Audrey Goodfriend, of North Hills, said of the INN, “It’s a wonderful organization. This is a real donation. All the money, not just a percentage, is going to help people. We’ve come every time it’s been here.”
Referring to Ben’s founder, Ronnie Dragoon, Goodfriend added, “He should be awarded.” Dragoon, a board member of the INN for the past 10 years, was not merely fielding compliments on the food, but working through the night, along with his staff, slicing meats and filling the plates of very pleased diners.
Feeding the Hungry. (Top Left): Ronnie Dragoon, owner of Ben's Kosher Deli in Greenvale, helps to serve dinner at an all-you-can-eat buffet to benefit the Interfaith Nutrition Network (INN). (Middle): Inn board member Robert Kammerer (left) and INN Director of Communications Cynthia Sucich are dedicated to helping alleviate a problem that "you don't see as visible on Long Island as in the city," but is most definitely there. (Top Right): Rumi Ratnam, whose family has been involved with INN for 15 years. Her husband is on the board and she and her daughter are active volunteers.
The first Ben’s opened in Baldwin in 1972. In the 35 years since, the business of “fresh food, freshly prepared and courteously served faithfully observing the kosher dietary laws” (according to Ben’s Web site), has grown to nine stores — six on Long Island, one in Manhattan, one in Queens and another in Boca Raton.
Dragoon said he first heard about the INN when he started to donate soup to soup kitchens. “I grew up in Brooklyn. By the time I was 14 I had lived in eight different places. We did not have much money, so I commiserate with those who don’t have a place to live,” he said.
On Nov. 11, Dragoon will host a Ben’s Thanksgiving dinner at the INN’s Hempstead soup kitchen. “I’ll be going down there to serve it, with my wife and a volunteer.”
When asked how many all-you-can-eat evenings to benefit the INN Ben’s has sponsored, Dragoon turned to Robert Kammerer, another INN board member, who replied, “I think this makes nine.” Dragoon said, “Every year it seems to get bigger.”
Before he returned to filling his guests’ plates, Dragoon responded to the question: Why the name “Ben’s”? Dragoon’s father once had a deli in New York City called Ben’s. “But who ever heard of a kosher deli called ‘Ronnie’s.’” Dragoon asked.
Kammerer, a physics teacher at Vaughn College, said that the INN has served seven million meals to those in need, beginning with its first soup kitchen in Hempstead.
“The INN was started by two people — Mike Moran and Pat O’Connor — in 1983. They were affiliated with Hofstra. They were going into the city to volunteer to help homeless people. Then back on Long Island they saw two people eating out of a garbage can and they decided the type of work they were doing was needed right on Long Island,” Kammerer explained. He also observed that since the founding of the INN there has been “a slow, but steady increase” in the numbers of people requiring the organization’s help. “Most of these people have had one tough break. They have no one to lean on. Our motto is simple: ‘Neighbors helping neighbors.’”
Kammerer added that anyone who comes to the INN saying “I’m homeless” would be given shelter. “You don’t have to go through a ton of paperwork to get emergency shelter.”The INN’s Sucich brought her experience in the corporate world to a job where now, she says, “I have a purpose. For the first time in my life I wake up and feel good about what I do. It feeds my soul to be involved in feeding 250,000 meals a year to people who really need it.” With apparent sincere enthusiasm she said, “When I think about the INN, I think about purity. I tell everybody, come see what we are going.
“We do what we say we’re doing. You can come to any of our soup kitchens, and I promise you, your life will change.
“People being hungry, people without a home — it’s in every community, whether you see it or not. We’re the only business that hopes it goes out of business, but I don’t think it’s going to,” Sucich said.
One of the guests at Ben’s Rumi Ratnam, said that her family had been “part of the INN for 15 years now.” Her husband is on the board. “I remember when it was small.”
Ratnam talked about her daughter, who while in grade school volunteered in soup kitchens. “One Christmas she decided to make Christmas cards for the homeless. I thought it would be better if she collected cans of food, something like that. But when she went to a soup kitchen before Christmas and gave out the cards, it was amazing how good it made these people feel to get one of her cards. As if someone cared about the.”
Jean Kelly, director of the INN, said she “helped open the first soup kitchen in Hempstead.” She noted that the organization now has 1,500 volunteers “from all faiths. We call it ‘interfaith’ because the issue of hunger belongs to the whole community.” Kelly added that anyone in need of food would not be subject to any religious proselytizing. Alongside that is her belief that all human beings have a desire to give and to get love. “If we don’t share that we are diminished.”