October 2020 Ruminations & Ronnifications

Let me recount the ways I have brought customers along for the ride and made them feel very much a part of Ben’s and the Ben’s Family. By giving tours in the store I was working and by corresponding with those who have written commentaries on the food and service, I was able to make people feel invested in Ben’s. And if there was a negative critique, I used empathy and sympathy when listening to the patron as well as using a bit of humor and generosity in my response.

An example:
I had a man say that Ben’s would never last, and all his neighbors said Ben’s was no good (I suspect pricing was too high.) Upon hearing that I sprang into action. Mr. Marx: I would love to give you a tour of the belly of the beast (the store and its bowels) and you can also watch the food being prepared since we make 95% of our menu in house. A week later he told me about telling his neighbors that they could eat off the floors, and he couldn’t believe how much food was made from scratch. I converted almost a whole housing development of naysayers.

People don’t forget.

Another example:
Mr. Orenstein calls me up and says he won’t get back to Baldwin from work in time to buy one dozen bagels he needed for the morning. I said no worry, I’ll go next door to the Bagel Emporium, and have it waiting for your pickup (we closed at 9:00 PM). He came, was given a receipt, and he gladly paid our cashier.

People don’t forget.

Another example:
A regular customer (it really didn’t matter if she was a regular customer or not) calls me and says she is home sick with her kids and they are sick, too. Could Ben’s deliver? Of course, Mrs. Pollack. “l’ll get to your home within 30 minutes.”

People don’t forget.

And lastly, another example:
A synagogue calls me ten minutes before closing time and desperately pleads with me to cater their event … for 300 people. I called all the workers back into the restaurant and we were able to feed 300 people and get there 80 minutes later. I never asked the reason why the short notice, but I do know that not many businesses could turn on a dime and perform as we did that night.

People don’t forget.

Do you know how I know people don’t forget? When I asked my customers to support Ben’s and help get us through these challenging times … they came.

Thank you to all my friends and loyal customers for your support. We have been there for each other through good times and bad. We are stronger together and Ben’s appreciates you now more than ever.

See ya at the deli.

Simply,
Ronnie

September 2020 Ruminations & Ronnifications

I am imagining writing this blog in 1972 (an essay or missive back then) when this journey of mine first began.

Richard Nixon was the President with the promise of ending the Vietnam War. Chaos reigned in his administration which ultimately ended in his resignation.

I was struggling to pay the rent at that time; in fact, I once used the coin bank of the store to pay the landlord the monthly rent in rolls of quarters and dimes. That landlord saw something in me when I asked to postpone a scheduled increase in the rent, and he acquiesced until such time as I could afford to pay. Four or five months later, I called the landlord and advised him that I could pay the rent with the promise I wouldn’t pay the rent in rolls of quarters and dimes. He was quite surprised that I volunteered to pay the increase without any prodding. I guess his faith and trust in me paid off.

Fast forward to 2020. Donald Trump is the President who promises to end endless wars. Chaos reigned in his administration with key members of his cabinet and high-level advisors coming and going. Unfortunately, he was saddled with a war of another kind –– the Covid-19 virus.

Now, here we are, 48 years later struggling to pay the rent, we are duplicating what we asked for back then; this time not only a postponement of rent increases, but a reduction in the rent as well –– coming on the heels of a precipitous drop in sales revenues. And although in both cases it was exhausting and an uphill battle, I was 48 years younger back then and had a lot more fight in me. How this will end no one knows for sure but in less than 63 days we will learn who will be presiding over this country.

As I urge you to support your favorite local restaurant and delicatessen, I also urge you to vote and be counted.

See ya at the deli.

Simply,
Ronnie

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