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March Ruminations & Ronnifications

March 2017 (Greenvale, New York) 

As we near our 25th year in the Bay Terrace Shopping Center, I recently signed the lease renewal for our Ben’s store in Bayside. I am awaiting the Landlord’s countersignature. I thought you might get a kick out of what I wrote in 1994 about building that store way back when...

Soon after we opened Jericho in 1989, people began talking about a store in Queens. It was intriguing. I had graduated Forest Hills High and spent my early married years in Queens. Fortunately, or unfortunately, my aging memory is quite selective. I remember only the euphoria of store planning and design and the warm glow of operating success. I suppress all the tsoris associated with opening a new store. So I forged ahead, back to my roots.

Somehow, I forgot the bank, signing literally hundreds of pages, giving away ownership of the store, and my personal possessions. Even our dog, Mikli and cat, Rover, are encumbered. But no matter. The bank’s crown jewel is the lease; a lease with very high rent and virtually every other provision in the landlord’s favor. I still wonder why it took so long to negotiate!

I’ve always tried to create aesthetically pleasing restaurants, but this time I was on a mission. I wanted Queens to be Ben’s finest, even better than our Deli Express store, which won a 1992 design award.

There were countless meetings: architects, designers, engineers, refrigeration specialists, contractors, vendors. Budgets were set. There were dozens of contacts, sub-contracts, scads of purchase orders with multiple manufacturers, numerous skilled craftspeople for millwork, lighting, etched glass, metalwork and terrazzo floors. Budgets were busted. Reset and re-busted!

Invitations were finally sent for a grand opening party on January 20, 1994, two months behind schedule. Wrong again! The place was a mess until an hour before party time. Construction not finished, temperature in the teens and no heat. We borrowed a blower used during football games to keep guests warm. Ironically, though bad weather kept customers at home and away from our stores throughout January, this night they came to Ben’s in droves. Only President Clinton was a no-show. 

Three days later, Ben’s of Bayside finally opened. I literally lived my dream of having people waiting on long lines to eat at my place! So, the hot water heater blew, flooding the men’s room and destroying the paper goods. So, last minute construction left chips on the tables, torn booth seats and ripped wallpaper. So the neon buzzed, computers glitched and drains were filled with concrete!

The tsoris behind, all that’s left is proper execution, new employees, training, equipment adjustments, and, the ultimate test, customer satisfaction. It’s 100 hour weeks again just like 21 years ago. Only now I’m 21 years older. Oi! As I ponder the challenges ahead it’s nice to have this column to jog my aging and selective memory. 

See ya at the Deli.