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

November 2019 Ruminations & Ronnifications

This past day before Yom Kippur, I worked the deli counter in Ben’s of Greenvale. It gave me the greatest joy not to be on a computer, or the telephone, or listening to a myriad of issues. I was smiling, enjoying the back-and-forth banter with our patrons (many of whom didn’t know who I was), making up their orders and wishing all a very happy, healthy, peaceful and reflective New Year.

Now, after Yom Kippur, I am back to answering emails, sending emails, listening to customer phone calls and inquiries, which doesn’t give me nearly the joy I have when working the deli counter.  So, what does this tell me? That my working life is more complete when I see, converse, and listen to our patrons.

So, what should I do?  Well, I have an idea that maybe I should change my official title from Chief Executive Officer/President/Founder to something closer and dearer to my heart—CCSO, or Chief Customer Service Officer…and roam the various Ben’s locations speaking with our patrons and the workers who make it all happen.
And yes, it is still in my blood to jump behind the counter to help a patron—it’s in my blood so you may be next!

Feel free to let me know what you think (rdragoon@bensdeli.net).

Oh, and don’t forget to order the Ben’s Thanksgiving package.

Thank you and see ya at the deli.

Simply,
Ronnie

October 2019 Ruminations & Ronnifications

I don’t want to complain about aches and pains.

I don’t want to complain about some of my landlords (who don’t know what it’s like to grind, especially in the restaurant business).

I don’t want to complain about fewer and fewer vendors from which to choose because of bankruptcy or, more likely, mergers.  I guess they never heard of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

I don’t want to complain about those few customers who traumatize the staff by their uncivil behavior, but I still remember the customer who threw a hot dog in the face of a Ben’s counterman saying he didn’t like the hot dog. I told him that he should have thrown the hot dog at me since I was the one who bought the hot dogs for Ben’s.

Rather, I want to write about the interesting journey I have enjoyed the last 47 years of my life (out of a 71-year total).

I have learned more about business, human behavior, employee/employer labor relations, and the marketplace than I ever learned in college—I guess political science doesn’t quite help the cause.

I have learned to swallow hard and be quiet, more reflective than reactive.

I have learned how torturous the legal system can be and how people and their counselors use the legal system to make a living without knowing the consequence of their actions on the owner, and the workers of a business.

I learned that there is a major difference from when I first embarked on this journey when I foolishly thought I could just put my head down, work like crazy and make people happy. Now? I spend an inordinate amount of time (and money) on frivolous lawsuits. A man walks across Northern Blvd. in Greenvale, trips on the curb (as far as I know, Northern Blvd. is a state road) and, the next thing I know, I am a party to a lawsuit involving the state, the landlord of the shopping center, the original installer of the sidewalk six years before, and Ben’s. And there are so many others too numerous to list—space is limited, but not the events!

But I’ll just keep my head down, continue to work and hope to make happy customers.

And for those of the Jewish faith (and I am 99.8% Ashkenazi Jewish, according to the test tube my children provided and had tested…. and I do as I am told by my children), may you all have a very happy, and healthy New Year with the hope for a kinder and more peaceful world.

See ya at the deli.

September 2019 Ruminations & Ronnifications

T.S. Eliot, the noted essayist and poet, measured his life in coffee spoons. I measure my life in how many High Holidays I am able to make it through…. still standing.

The preparation is enormous– the chopping, dicing, mincing, slicing, and cutting. Orders will be taken, filled, packed and delivered (or picked up). It ain’t easy (please forgive my English), but I always thrived on the challenge of leading our team of managers and their staff to success, which means, and has always meant, making customers happy.
Whether you purchase our Cole slaw, soup, brisket, Empire chickens or an entire holiday meal package, it is an absolute honor and privilege when you choose Ben’s for your holiday table and allow Ben’s to be a part of your holiday celebration and family memories.

My hats are off to all the managers and their staff– with my deep gratitude– for helping to feed the over 10,000 people who have their Rosh Hashanah orders catered by Ben’s, not counting all the foods purchased over the takeout counter the two days prior to the holiday.

Thank you for your trust, your loyalty, and, for most of your, years of patronage. I so want to keep the tradition alive, even if Ben’s is the last Kosher deli standing.

May you all have a very happy, healthy and peaceful New Year. My late mom–may she rest in peace–could never forget her preparation for Rosh Hashanah. I was born on Rosh Hashanah, 1948.

See ya at the Deli,

Ronnie

P.S. Oh, and don’t forget our Feast Before the Fast, Yom Kippur meals and menus.

August 2019 Ruminations & Ronnifications

I am old enough to remember when we had bomb drills in elementary school where we hid under a desk (a lot of good that would do during a nuclear explosion, or shall we say a nuclear implosion).

Russia, China and Cuba were our mortal enemies in the 1950s, with Russia having a nuclear arsenal. But I thought then as I do now that we are not enemies. Rather, we have differences of how things should work (and I always wonder, by whose definition?), which is why we were given a brain, ears, eyes and the ability to speak.

When we have a dispute with a neighbor or a friend, do we look to kill? I certainly hope not.

And if we choose as couples to decouple (I very recently heard that term), we go to mediation or arbitration, or court… courting a divorce and not by the end of a bullet or knife.

War no more ……Has it ever solved anything except for the destruction of Nazi Germany? One war plants the seeds of the next war and the next and the next until we have war forevermore…and we cry for the dead and wounded but the piling of bodies grows ever higher.

So having said that, what should we fear the most? Nuclear war certainly but what if Earth becomes uninhabitable? I guess I could hide under a table in the restaurant, bringing back many memories (not that this new table was any stronger than my elementary school desk) or a bubble that sustains me high in the mountains so I’d be less affected from the melting ice and rising oceans!

Oh well….it’s time to go back to slicing pastrami….and celebrating National Deli Month in August.

See ya at the deli!

Ronnie