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

July 2019 Ruminations & Ronnifications

Here I am, about seven miles in the air traveling to Memphis, Tennessee – a place I have not been to in over 47 years. My wife Cindy, and I are taking a river cruise on the mighty Mississippi from Memphis to New Orleans. I hope to see Graceland prior to the beginning of the river cruise so I can remember the time my late Aunt Betty danced to “Hound Dog” and other Elvis Presley songs. Understand that my Aunt Betty lived with us as we were growing up. To this day, I get the greatest joy listening to 50s music, smiling with all the warm memories of Aunt Betty, for whom our four-year-old granddaughter is named.

Just prior to boarding the plane at LaGuardia Airport in New York City, I recognized a Congressman from – of all places – the Volunteer State, Tennessee. It was U.S. representative, Steve Cohen. Anyone who knows me knows I could never pass up the opportunity to converse with a politician. I told him that, in a few weeks, I would be catering an event in Washington, D.C.

Lo and behold, he said he would be attending. I then told the Congressman that I would be slicing the succulent double-steamed pastrami at that event. I did tell him, however, that I wouldn’t be serving fried chicken, as there was a famous picture of the good Congressman munching on fried chicken while some of his fellow Congressmen were questioning the Attorney General of the United States, William Barr, about the Mueller Report.

He then told me that, on the cruise I was taking, there would be ample amounts of southern fried chicken to nosh on. And my wandering mind is still wondering if he, the good Congressman, was washing down that Kentucky fried chicken with some of that well-known Tennessee whiskey.

See y’all at the Deli.

Simply,
Ronnie

P.S. Tennessee Congressman, Steve Cohen, did indeed attend the DNC event in Washington, D.C. that Ben’s catered!

June 2019 Ruminations & Ronnifications

I can still remember. April showers bring May flowers and so what does the Mayflower bring? Pilgrims!

But not those immigrants, silly. Rather, our latest wave of immigration includes those from India, Pakistan, the Pacific Rim, Central America, etc.

Unlike most African-Americans – who were forcibly brought to this country – the immigrants of yesteryear desperately came here to seek a better life in the land of opportunity. Isn’t it a wonderful testament to the United States of America that people still want to come here, even with its warts?

We are probably the most diverse nation on the planet with input from so many different cultures and an appreciation of so many perspectives. The common denominator here is that most people simply want to put food on their table, a roof over their head, and a good education for their offspring… in a peaceful environment. They came from places where they may have been persecuted, tortured, and/or imprisoned for a whole host of reasons…. many of which we cringe when we see and hear the offenses.

The immigrants we have working at Ben’s, most of whom are from Central America, are hardworking, and honorable – dedicated to the job and serving the public well. My heart goes out to these people as they hear all the noise emanating from Washington, D.C. Sometimes, I think they are pawns in some sort of political chess game. They are no more guilty of crimes than those who are American born. They are as striving as any native-born American, maybe more so.

Why do we pick on the weakest among us? What have they done to affect our lives adversely? Does it mean that we should ignore the gangs? Absolutely not. In the same way we went after organized crime and the drug cartels, we should go after gangs and gang members. Most of the immigrants on the low end of the pay scale, who do the jobs that most Americans do not want, serve a real need in society until such time, as they and their offspring can attain the American dream…and then we’ll be ready for the next wave of immigration.

As has been said by much smarter people than me, a society is judged not by how it treats the most well-heeled among us, but the poorest and weakest among us.

See ya at the Deli.

Simply,
Ronnie

May 2019 Ruminations & Ronnifications

That time again. What am I to write? The idols of my youth? Willie Mays, Karl Marx, Norman Thomas “Who are they?” you may be asking if you’re under the age of 50? Contemporary political events?
No, I am a Deli Man. So, about deli I will write. As Ben’s approaches its 47th year in business beginning with its first location in 1972, I remind myself of the many very successful men and women
who once worked at Ben’s.

Ensconced in telecommunications, information technology, the law, medicine, accounting, etc., they have made me proud. As you may know, working to satisfy deli restaurant customers is challenging…
and educational – worth at least two semesters of college credit. Believe me, I know. Where else could one learn to weather the storms of a benevolent despot (me), harried and hurried patrons and sometimes
irritating and inconsiderate co-workers? Yes, Ben’s can prepare one well.

Now, at the age of 70-1/2 with bad legs and feet from all those 100 plus-hour workweeks and other ailments, I can no longer climb nor move mountains. What my body cannot do, my mind must.

The task for a tired leader is to groom a cadre of successors and know when to move on. My next years at Ben’s will be spent marshaling the forces to ensure continuity of our core values – integrity, honesty and social humanism – and the Kosher Delicatessen tradition!

See ya at the Deli,

Simply,
Ronnie

April 2019 Ruminations & Ronnifications

I am on the horns of a dilemma. I am just hoping that that the horns don’t gore me! With restaurant margins being squeezed by minimum wage increases (not opposed to this, only opposed to the rapid rise which makes it difficult to absorb) with a concomitant raise for those above the minimum wage, labor shortages, food cost inflation, third-party delivery fees, and the higher ELD freight (trucking industry) mandates … it is no wonder this will be causing major disruptions in the restaurant industry. No restaurant will go unscathed.

What should I do? What can I do to prevail?

All this while I am awaiting two lease extensions from landlords. In one location (since 1982) and the other (since 1996), I don’t know what to expect, though I do know, and am counting on the fact, that it is not so easy to rent retail space these days. We are all witnessing so many empty retail spaces for rent in the Big Apple, as well as on Long Island. It is in my favor that I have always paid my rent on time, and I try to comply with all the rules and regulations from the respective landlords. I even, personally, park in the employee-designated parking areas that the respective landlords have established over the years, even though it is a long walk for a 70-year-old whose time spent on his legs behind the deli counter is hard to calculate. In my years on this Earth, I can calculate, however, how many days and hours I have worked through the nearly 47 years spent behind that deli counter — probably two lifetimes of work.

I look back and say, “Why?”

My father used to tell me that Y is a crooked letter. But I know the real reason. Having lived in eight different places in the first 14 years of life, I had an overwhelming desire to be successful. Please note that I said “successful,” not how much money I have made and lost in the kosher delicatessen business. All I can say — and I tell this to my wife multiple times — is that, no matter what happens on this rocky road of kosher deli, we are a whole lot better off today than we were back in the day. And, in the end, that is what counts. Knowing how many mouths we have fed, how many more people we satisfied than disappointed, how many young employees went on to professional lives and how many employees made this their life’s work. And I always marvel at the many lifelong friendships that are cultivated at Ben’s, and that we have been the source for so many of life’s rites of passage….

With that knowledge, I persevere and gain the strength I need to get up and fight another day. I am confident that my 47 years in this business has taught me enough to make this work. My knowledge, and never-ending passion and dedication, will help me lead the way. We will be the one left standing as I still have one more lifetime of work, yet, left in me (or ahead of me — I couldn’t decide).

See ya at the Deli.

Simply,
Ronnie

March 2019 Ruminations & Ronnifications

Change is inevitable, but not always positive.

As a business owner for 46 years, I have had to change with the times; some changes have been exciting while others have been disheartening. One of my recent and growing struggles has been on how to handle the negative impact of social media. Instead of complaining to me and allowing me to rectify a problem, customers — and even non-customers — take the liberty to bash me and my business on social media. These are not people who want to offer insight or constructive criticism, which I have always welcomed. Rather, these are people who seem to have venomous, mean-spirited diatribes on their agenda.

Waking up to these words or seeing them as the last thing I see before I go to bed has affected me as a person … a person who values customers and people saying nice things about Ben’s much more than money. I am left to wonder what people are really thinking in this world of social media, and if they know how defamatory their remarks may be and how hurtful they are … or if people simply have nothing better to do with their time.
I try to stand tall and proud. After all, I build restaurants that are aesthetically pleasing, hiring well-known architects to execute my thoughts and layouts, try to buy the best in kosher meat, make most of our foods from scratch, and ask my 320 employees to take good care of our equipment, our foods and, most importantly, our patrons.
I also have contributed over $1 million to Long Island-based causes over the last 40 years, never refusing to lend a hand, giving gift certificates to almost every organization that requests donations, giving out Pint for a Pint certificates for those who donate a pint of blood (give a pint of blood, receive a pint of chicken soup) and donating money to those groups, attempting to help those who are the weakest and poorest among us. Although maintaining a profitable business is much harder than it used to be, I still continue to contribute robustly because it is important to me.

As with most things and plans, however, I sometimes fall short. Those who know me personally and professionally will never say that I didn’t try hard enough, and even harder when the public points out our failings. I have always been responsive to customer wants and needs and answer each and every concern. Constructive criticism is essential to me so I can make Ben’s the very best it can be!

I welcome your feedback, both good and bad, and hope that you continue to let me know how we are doing. Allow me to right the wrongs and, remember: I depend on dialogue and communication so Ben’s can strive to do better and continue to prosper and grow and not join other delis in the ash heap of history.

Thanks for listening!

See you at the Deli,
Ronnie