August 2020 Ruminations & Ronnifications

I’d like to take a survey of my customers as they enter the restaurant. Here are the questions:

Since the shortage of toilet paper, and a lack of brand choices, is your tuchas (rear end) more sore, less sore, or about the same?

What did you do when your natural roots began showing gray? Let it grow out au natural, buy the dye and do it yourself (and pray that someone is home to help), or go to the colorist in the still of the night?

Did you re-acquaint yourself with those metal nail clippers that cost about a dollar? Or use a scissor? Or let them grow out like Vicki in Carle Place?

Did you try to play hair stylist and focus on the terrible job, sides being uneven? Or how much money was saved?

Are you wearing clothing that you hadn’t worn in five years? ten years? fifteen years? Or do you just wear the same clothes every day because no one is seeing you anyway?

Did you gain as much weight as I did? Five pounds? Ten pounds? Or fifteen pounds? Let’s see if we make a match.

Did it just seem that we have more garbage now than we had pre-pandemic? Or is it now filled with empty cardboard boxes?

Have you started to measure your life in how long you can make the toothpaste last? Or the mouthwash? Or the Clorox wipes?

Did you realize that almost all your needs can be met by Amazon? A delivery company — vertically integrated — and conglomerate reaching into all businesses, facets of life and your personal business?

Lastly, and less irreverent, what can we do to better serve you? What will it take for you to come and eat in our indoor or outdoor restaurants and feel safe doing so? What can we do to enhance your take out experience? We are here… and have been here working hard to safely serve you and help get through these challenging times.

Stay well and safe.

See ya at the deli,
Simply Ronnie

July 2020 Ruminations & Ronnifications

Where have all the years gone? I began this journey as an idealistic twenty-four year old hoping to satisfy anyone and everyone. And at the beginning of this journey I did but I had this incessant need to grow the business and to build on the last accomplishment. An overwhelming need to prove myself caused me to go home late at night, almost every night, and plan the next adventure on this journey; this was accomplished  after working 100+ hours per week for at least seven years.

At first, I enjoyed much success. I was told that everything I touched turned to gold. I knew better. And some of my  future failures proved me right. But I got up, dusted myself off, learned some very valuable lessons and marched on.

It is now forty-eight years later as an almost seventy-two year old continues on this fateful journey with a little less energy, a slower step in my walk, and a mind that is less sharp and nimble but with the ever present goal of pleasing our patrons… all while keeping over 300 employees employed and the tradition alive. My goal is now to try and get all our employees on the same page, by teaching and training while disseminating all I have learned on this Quixotic journey.

This is no easy task as we embark on our ever-changing new world. We will navigate with you and for you following new guidelines and protocols to provide the eastern European foods of our ancestors… all to be enjoyed in safety and comfort in the new normal.

See ya all at the Deli,
Ronnie

To Ben’s Deli Patrons

The letter below was received on Saturday, June 6th from Woolbright Development demanding the premium rents of April, May and June in the amount of $86,688.51 which is close to $30,000 per month (no small amount) without warning or discussion.

Is this how a 15 year plus tenant is treated who has never missed a payment in over 15 years, always paying their rent promptly?

I realize that neither Woolbright Development nor Ben’s created this Covid 19 pandemic. Woolbright is the only landlord (or agent of a landlord) who has chosen this path. Every other landlord has worked with Ben’s. This tells Ben’s that Woolbright doesn’t care about our tenancy now or in the future.

Aside from being unreasonable in my opinion, Woolbright is putting over 55 jobs in jeopardy during these turbulent times.

If as loyal patrons you feel that is it is unfair or premature to evict Ben’s, please call Woolbright Development at (561) 989-2240 and let them know of your disapproval.

Kosher Delicatessen & Restaurants are an endangered species; they will become extinct without patron intervention.

With best regards,
Ronnie Dragoon
CEO/Founder

June 2020 Ruminations & Ronnifications

It’s amazing how species develop, evolve and are able to change their behaviors. We have all learned to adapt through this pandemic; but we will be forever changed, in one way or another, for better or worse.

As June approaches this will be the end of my second month in isolation. And although I am engaged in Ben’s seven days a week, working harder than ever, I feel in some way disengaged and removed.

I am anxious to get back to my Greenvale office and resume business as usual. Of course, usual is the operative word as this too will need to be re-defined. We are working tirelessly, planning, purchasing and implementing changes to ensure the safest and cleanest environment for our dining customers and staff.

Our Boca dining room has already reopened successfully, at partial capacity. And we are excited to re-open our Manhattan store for take out only, June 1st.  Forward movement and our new normal is on the horizon.

It won’t be long until we can re-engage with our customers eating in our New York dining rooms. But I wonder, if and when, will we ever resume shaking people’s hands? Hugging each other when greeting? Or feeling safe in large gatherings? I do hope, that those days will come, but only time will tell.

See ya at the deli.

Simply,
Ronnie

May 2020 Ruminations & Ronnifications

I am hoping:

that the better part of the Corona virus is behind us so that we can begin anew;

that most if not all of our employees will be back working sooner rather than later;

that families enjoyed the best of each other if they were lucky enough to stay at home but if they weren’t, they were able to face time with their families as we did with our grandchildren;

that those individuals who were not at home with their families –– but on the front lines –– know how appreciative we all are for their service;

that all those who have a 401k plan or other retirement plan dependent on the vagaries of the stock market see an upward movement in their account;

that all our vendors emerge from this devastating blow to our economy;

that we see many more smiles and the playful bantering that typically is part of the genuine kosher deli experience when we reopen fully;

that the pages devoted to the obituaries lessen, and the New York Times marriage section becomes greater;

that everyone emerges with greater empathy for those who are incarcerated for nonviolent behavior;

And lastly, I am hoping that we never have to be a participant in another pandemic in our lifetimes, so that we don’t have to imagine a world without restaurants, without kosher delis.

Thank you to all our patrons for your past, present and future support. I am hoping.

With best regards,
Ronnie Dragoon
CEO/Founder

April 2020 Ruminations & Ronnifications

Here I am. In my home office. Answering customers questions, responding to Ben’s personnel, and issues that are specific to each Ben’s location.

I worked up until March 20th until I had no choice but to listen to my adult children who implored me to stay home because I am in my 70’s with an underlying medical condition. Anyone who knows me, knows that I have always felt leadership required me to be with the frontline workers; that was of course until  my daughter exclaimed, “you do want to see your grandchildren, don’t you?”  That was the wake-up call that landed me in my home office… and so here I remain… lonely, out of the thick of battle, and learning what retirement would mean for me — a person who no longer plays competitive sports but does like to read, think, analyze and solve problems.

My spouse is not too fond of this incarceration as well, and that was even before my failed attempt at using all the rotting bananas to make banana bread (at least I liked it and at least I tried). For my wife, her life has been upended and unaccustomed to her husband being home all morning, day, and night. But I am sure we’ll survive this and Cindy and I will celebrate our 44th wedding anniversary this April.

When I wrote a few months back (in the February Blog) that I was going to take a step back, I didn’t realize how prescient it would be. For me, my life’s work hangs in the balance. And, of course, my heart  goes out to the workers at Ben’s; to the workers at other restaurants, and grocery stores; to all the Doctors, Nurses, Police Officers, Fire Fighters, Paramedics, postal workers and other first responders who do their very best to continue to take care of the public during this very scary moment in our history, an even greater thank you and appreciation. And, of course, for all those who lost their jobs and their incomes, a deep regret.

Hope to see you all in our dining rooms as soon as possible.  And may all our patrons and friends have as Happy a Passover and Easter as possible.

With best regards,
Ronnie Dragoon
CEO/Founder

March 2020 Ruminations & Ronnifications

Thank you for your  warm and overwhelming response to my February blog. Forty-seven years ago I couldn’t have imagined it was possible to receive such an  outpouring of love and support. The admiration and kindness I’ve been receiving from new and longtime patrons,  and vendors, as well as present and former employees of Ben’s has been heartwarming.

It is gratifying  to hear this after all the years in business beginning with a formerly twice bankrupt kosher delicatessen restaurant in Baldwin on the south shore of Long Island in 1972. Reflecting on all these years, it amazes me how quickly time has passed and how interesting the journey has been….and continues to be .

Change is a constant and mandated by changing consumer tastes so it is not easy to walk away; there are still so many ideas,  plans and work to be done. And even as I take a step back, the management team will be working on a brand new plant based menu with vegan and vegetarian options. Very recently, our supervising chef and I worked with lentil pasta and this incredibly high protein pasta was delicious as well as gluten free which should make many of our patrons happy (and my wife Cindy who is a vegan).

At this point, I still come to work tasting and critiquing, prioritizing my work load and  learning how to delegate more. I  plan to continue to oversee and consult with       those from my current  management team, who have been assigned the task of carrying on this great tradition, a tradition borne out of the shtetls of Eastern Europe with the aim of keeping it alive well into the 21st century…. in spite of the hurdles and obstacles that face many businesses, especially those of us in the restaurant business.

Again, thank you to each and every one of you who  took the time to write , call or make a personal visit . Your support has always and continues to be an inspiration.

You have renewed my strength,  value and commitment and enabled me to-in many ways- re-define my workload as well as my definition of success.

So let’s raise our glasses and say, L’Chaim.

Humbly Yours,

Ronnie

February 2020 Ruminations & Ronnifications

I have decided that I must take a step back from Ben’s after toiling at Ben’s since 1972.

Will this be a shock to those who know me?

Probably.

Is it understandable?

I believe it is. Since I only know one way to workwhich is hardI am having a hard time accepting work habits that are contrary to what I am accustomed…. not to say anything about my mental well being given our litigious society. I keep thinking of how Bernie Sanders, Michael Bloomberg, and Joe Biden can continue to campaign at their advanced ages when Isome six years younger than all of themam having a hard time keeping up and concerned that what they do I can do no longer.

It’s hard to give up on what one has been doing for over 47 years and doing it with love, passion, and dedication and proud of what I was able to accomplish…but the restaurant business is getting more difficult to navigate and the labor market is ever shrinking with less loyalty and caring. Employing 300 in multiple physical locations is a daunting task. The pressure is too great and becoming even greater to provide job security for so many (which has been so important to me through the years) and maintain a reasonable pay schedule with reasonable andeven generousbenefits. This is not an indictment just a fact of present day life.

I will certainly have great regrets not doing what has been the center of my working life for close to half a century….but back away I must. I need to exhale and smell the fresh air of spring and fall, the heat of summer and the cold of winter, enjoy our grandchildren and my wife, who worked along side of me for 44 of my 47 years in business.

But a question does remain. To whom do I entrust a brand I have built over 47 years? To many of the hard working loyal members of the management team? Or to an outside entity? Of one thing I am certain. I want Ben’s to continue. So to whomever I entrust the future, I would want them to keep the tradition alive. Of course I will always be a part of Ben’s to my last days, just not working behind the counter or wearing my working whites with my red suspenders!

I thank all those who have been loyal to the brandcustomers and employees alike!

With much humility and tears in my eyes,

Ronnie

January 2020 Ruminations & Ronnifications

Is enough, enough?

I keep hearing people saying, “It’s good enough.”

Well, those words ring hollow to me.

All my life- in both my personal and professional life – I have strived for excellence, knowing that I would invariably fall somewhat short.

You see good enough was never good enough for me, but it seems I am badly outnumbered by those I meet and with whom I work.

How do I reconcile these two conflicting thoughts and actions working with those who think it is enough?

I don’t… and I can’t. But unlike too many others, I have my own road to travel. I guess I’ll always take the road less traveled but if it means greater success- in both my personal and professional life- I will gladly take that route.

As always, when the product and services do not meet your expectations, or we don’t do enough, please let me know.

See you all at the Deli.

Simply,
Ronnie

P.S. I write this at 11:43pm after working thirteen hours (and three days before the New Year) in the Ben’s in Boca Raton, Florida, seeing many of our long-time patrons from the various Ben’s locations in New York.

 

December 2019 Ruminations & Ronnifications

Here it is, not only another year ending and another beginning, but a new decade. It’s 2020, and to think I thought that I would be an old man if I lived to the year 2000. Well now, two decades later, I’m still toiling in Kosher delicatessen heaven. The changes I have witnessed these last 20 years have been unimaginable.

Keeping to the topic of food, we have buzzwords like “processed,” “organic,” “gluten-free,” “nut free,” “vegan,” “vegetarian” and “pescatarian.” These words really change how we restauranteurs work, think, and act, and, more importantly, how we stay relevant in the food industry.

I am blasted with emails, relating to the above topics — most of the vendors I don’t want or need — so I put myself on what I call “high alert” and, yet, I am still deluged with emails that I don’t need or want. Not only emails regarding food, but prequalify is a constant and I keep wondering how does one prequalify or how does one pre-board for that matter? I keep getting emails for Viagra (that little blue pill) and I keep asking, “How do they know?”

Where does this leave me? Possibly behind a driver who is texting and causes me to get stuck as the green light turns to yellow and then red. Or with a person who walks right into my car because they are walking without looking as they are focused on their phone. Or with my wonderful grandchildren, Ella Bettie and Leo Bernard, whom I adore, but can’t sit through a meal without having to watch a video on their mommy’s smartphone.

As I look ahead, I am hopeful for positive change. Sometime in the new year 2020, I look forward to providing more vegan and vegetarian options. Stay tuned as we reveal our new plant-based menu selections. We continue to strive to meet the ever-changing eating habits of our customers and are always looking to attract new patrons. As always, I am available to hear your thoughts and evolve with you so I remain current.

As we leave 2019 and enter 2020, I will think about the remaining holidays — Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. As always, I look forward to participating in your celebrations by catering your holiday, taking your last-minute order, providing dreidels to your children and grandchildren… and, of course, making lots of Latkes.

I want to wish all of you, my loyal customers, a very happy, healthy, peaceful and reflective secular new year.

See ya at the Deli.

Simply,
Ronnie