When I was a Vista volunteer in 1970 with a beard developing and a disappearing hair line - a harbinger of things to come - we VISTAS (Volunteers in Service to America) all gathered to create a sense of team. I turned down smoking a joint, and when they offered me a beer, I said no thank you. They couldn't imagine this young man from Queens County wouldn't smoke marijuana or drink alcoholic beverages. Really, they exclaimed! No alcohol? No drugs? I just nodded my head in some sort of shame. The peer pressure was difficult to handle, but I stood tall and wouldn't let anyone or anything change this progressive mind (with a conservative life style)... even though I was the lone dissenter.
I guess that is why I own a Deli. I went against the advice of many. My best friend through High School and College told me I was wasting my life. He said I was smarter than this (this meaning the business). My parents laughed at me and told me I was crazy to embark on this endeavor. I didn’t blame them; after all, it’s not the typical path of an educated young man along with a tour as a Vista Volunteer after college. And to add insult to injury, the bank was hesitant to give me a business loan because, my first location that I took over as a kosher delicatessen, already went bankrupt twice.
So I showed them... or did I?
My best friend is collecting an extremely nice pension as a retired professor of Biology and I am still toiling in the proverbial trenches. Another friend from my Vista days also retired from SUNY as a professor of sociology.
Although I continue to work extremely hard, I do take pride and take great satisfaction that I survived and continue surviving when so many kosher deli’s failed and continue to fail all around me. My customers have a need that I am able to fill. I provide jobs for over 320 employees.
I guess if I had to attribute something to my success and survival it is that I always followed my dreams and my gut and never fell to peer, employee, landlord or distributor pressure. And let's be honest, I’m here because of you - our loyal customers who pay all our wages. I did it my way for almost 45 years; and thank you for letting me serve you. May we continue our relationship for years to come. I wish you all a Happy and Healthy New Year.
See ya at the Deli,
What should I write for my August blog? In the approximately twenty years I have been writing a column for the Deli Newsletter, I have touched on everything from some odd requests, to some misconceptions I had about our patrons, to the experiences of opening new stores and the closing of others. I have also discussed my vendors--past and present, landlords, and also some positive and negative aspects of our many employees.
I am sure I left out some stories due to my advancing age and unfortunately, my advancing age has taught me a thing or two about what writer's block truly means!
I am here... so I go back to my question, what should I write about for the August blog. Hmmm. I've got it. The Future. Years ago, I dreamt of the day that Robots would replace servers; no disrespect here but robots do have some advantages - they don't talk back, won't call in late or sick, or tell me that their uncle died (how many uncles can one person have), that they forgot their dentist appointment or countless other excuses for not showing up to work that sometimes are actually quite creative.
Yes, I am waiting for the robots to serve pastrami, French fries, stuffed cabbage, hanger steak, and turkey dinners. And it is not too far in the future since I just read about a pizza parlor that is staffed by robots acting as servers. In fact, the business doubled when the public found this out. I guess a robot can't be impatient, surly, or insulting. But in all fairness, a robot won't be able to read a customer's mind about what they want to eat or be a friend and listen to a customer's story about a bad day. Most importantly, a robot won't be able to go the extra mile in order to do the right thing to satisfy every customer and make sure that every customer leaves happy.
Thank you for putting up with my latest thoughts, and ramblings.
See ya at the Deli!
In the course of a typical tumultuous day and week, I am confronted by some of the craziest happenings. This past week, I received an email from a well known scion of a famous restaurant family whose son purchased food from our Scarsdale location where he resides. It seems that he inadvertently left his wallet on the counter. When he called the restaurant in a panic (we've all been there), the Assistant Manager advised him that one of our employees found his wallet. Relieved, he said he would come to the restaurant to retrieve his wallet; the Assistant Manager said there was no need, he would drop it off on his way home from work. Though both the Assistant Manager and the employee were offered a reward, it was refused. To quote this long time Ben's patron and scion of the famed restaurant family:
"In these days of tough business and striving for customer loyalty, your staff has shown a great way to keep your customers satisfied beyond the food experience. My son was extremely grateful for their action and will continue to be a supporter of his local Ben's (Scarsdale) as my wife and I will be a supporter of our local Ben's (Greenvale)."
And if that wasn't enough, in the same week a poor young lady lost her retainer valued at $1,000. It was about 8:30 at night when I left my upstairs Long Island office only to find the young lady along with her father rummaging through the piles of bagged garbage in our refrigerated garbage room. They had asked the Assistant Manager for permission to do this and with much concern said, of course! At 9:30 PM when I was finally leaving for the day, I checked on the progress only to find an hourly employee - who already clocked out - sitting on the floor knee deep in the garbage. On his own without prompting and a ten hour work day, he donated over an hour of his time searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.
The father - also in the restaurant business - felt terrible about this imposition given that it was after hours with employees ready to leave. Bag after bag, they went through the garbage with no success. The father was agitated, the young lady was crying but the Assistant Manager calmed both and said it was okay to take as long as necessary to find the retainer. With gloves on they got to the last bag of garbage. Voila, the young lady with tears streaming down her reddened face found the retainer.
I guess there is such a thing as a Lost and Found at Ben's! and also many heartwarming signs of humanity!
See ya at the deli,
Come this October, I will have been in business for 45 years. Yes, you read that correctly. Forty-five years of learning, growing, prospering and living the “American Dream” as a Baby Boomer.
I may be in the twilight of my career – or shall I refer to it as the sunset of my career, but I am constantly wondering who will continue the Ben's tradition. Keeping the customs alive and the business I built intact is concerning and preoccupies most of my spare time.
Forty-five years ago, it would have been unthinkable that a Kosher deli would no longer exist on every street corner but, sadly, we are an endangered species. Where there were once almost 300 Jewish and/or Kosher delicatessen restaurants in metro New York, now there are fewer than fifty.
But, these are very different times. Most of our patrons do not follow the laws of kashrut. And, the unique connection and loyalty that immigrants and their offspring had to the neighborhood Kosher deli no longer exists. I remember a time when I saw patrons three or four times per week – primarily those who only ate kosher foods. Now, we are lucky if our patrons visit us two times per month.
To combat this declining food sector called the Kosher deli, I make certain that we are keeping up with the times and listen to our customers in order to give them what they want. This includes healthier options, like our Grilled Chicken Avocado Salad, or creative menu options like our innovative Burger Month Menu. Additionally, we are constantly updating and remodeling our stores. If you read my May blog, you would know that we updated and renovated our Bayside location.
And, while we try to stay ahead of the competition and make changes, we also continue to stay the course and remember why we have seven locations and are in business 45 years come October – we still cure our own corned beefs and tongues, make all our deli side salads, purchase Idaho potatoes for our freshly cut French fries, and make most of our food from scratch, including the chicken soup and matzo balls that are made daily in our kitchens.
I will continue to support local causes and charities, never refusing to help a community group when asked. We strive to be responsible, caring and giving corporate citizens, and hopefully there will be enough business to enable us to continue help our fellow citizens and local neighborhoods well into the future.
Thanks for all your years of patronage.
See ya at the deli,
As I write this blog, I am on the fifth day of the reconstruction of Ben's Bayside. This is the second rehab of the location since opening in 1994, when I was a spry 45 years of age. New bathrooms, new furniture, new tables, new chairs, terrazzo reclamation, and the painting of the entire restaurant is taking place; and what we refer to as "back of the house" (the kitchen) is also being rehabilitated.
I look back at the almost 45 years that I have been doing this and realize how much passion, care and energy I brought to this company, and how much I still do. Unfortunately, my strength, stamina and energy are not nearly an indicator as to how much I still care nor how passionate I still am.
So, as I am writing this, the tile man is passing by my makeshift "desk." The dust is still thick in the air from all the work (grinding of the terrazzo/concrete floor and the sandpapering of the walls prior to painting and wallpaper covering). The smells of the kitchen are not of my favorite brisket, but rather of a welder putting together a piece of equipment as well as the cement re-grouting of the kitchen's quarry tile floor.
With me all week are two really nice kids who work in Ben's Bayside, Sam and Kevin. They are making certain that we can reopen by the end of the eight days of Passover. They are washing, scraping, polishing and generally cleaning the entire restaurant as the tradespeople continue to leave a trail that could only be made by tradespeople (only kidding guys) and babies (not kidding). The tile men, the bathroom people and the Terrazzo company are working here today while we have another three days before we open.
The carpet people are coming in on Tuesday to do the "balcony" area while the carpeting in the totally revamped party room will be done when we reopen on Wednesday (there were no prior reservations for the beautiful new party room on that day). At the last minute, I decided to paint the ceilings a light shade of grey in the new bathrooms and the redecorated Party Room. And, as I sit here writing of the day’s events, I am thinking that maybe we should hold a naming contest for the Party Room.
I found a wall that had to be torn down because of water seepage, which damaged the wall and the mirrors on the wall, so I had to call a glazier. I also had so much tile left over from the restrooms, I said "what the heck, I'll tile the walls of the hallway leading to the bathrooms."
There will be odds and ends that come in later than expected because of some disappointments. For instance, we bought chairs from three different companies. Two came in on time, while the other company is late and doesn't know when he can deliver, or if he can deliver, saying "there is no more stock." Why didn’t he inform us of this when we gave payment in full? Foolish me!
The red electrical fixtures (yes, you read this correctly, red) are not in yet and no one seems to know when they will arrive. I ask, “why not paint the electrical fixtures red?” Oh well, we will have the patience of a saint and the wisdom of Solomon (and Pope Francis) and simply wait. As they say, Rome wasn't built in a day.
Post-Blog Update: The Ben's Bayside Restaurant opened the day after Passover. The staff welcomed the public back into the newly renovated restaurant... but we are still waiting for the red fixtures, the 50-foot mural (arrived but needs still to be installed) and 17 lost chairs. I now know I can't quit my day job!
See ya at the Deli,
I have written many of these columns through the years. Way back when, we sent these to our patrons via snail mail, while now we send them electronically. So, what should I write about now that might interest the Ben's patron? Would it be interesting to give the general public a glimpse into the operations of this relatively small business? Well then, let me give it a try!
Ben's has approximately 320 workers, most of whom are hardworking and try to do the right thing. As their employer, I am responsible not just for these employees, but also the livelihood of their families.
Of course, we have an Accounting and Finance Office, where the CFO resides along with an assistant and two employees for account payables, account receivables and to assist with the daily finances – both for the business and in support of our employees. It should be noted that, our Marketing Coordinator situates himself in that same office, which helps to lighten up an office filled with "accounting types" (usually thought of as being dour and somber). Of course, our Accounting Firm, Cohn Reznick, which exhibits none of that (maybe this sweet-talking will help when they present their yearly bill) also oversees all our reporting.
Most notable among our facilities, of course, are Ben's seven locations, each with its own General Manager (so, seven different employees, whose average length of service is probably around twenty years), Head Chef, Assistant General Manager and Counter Manager, as well as two prep cooks, three to four line cooks, one or two porters, and 40 or more hourly workers who make up the crux of our workforce. For their hard work and efforts, Ben's full-time employees are provided with two to four weeks' vacation (depending on length of service), a healthcare plan (with a Ben's contribution of 30-35% -- a staple of our business for more than 20 years), bereavement and jury duty pay, eight paid holidays per year (amounts to eight days additional pay), a company-paid life insurance policy, five to six paid sick days (if they are not sick during the year, it amounts to an additional week's pay), and lastly, and maybe most importantly, a 401K plan to which Ben's contributes a 50% match on a portion of the worker's contribution. Given the longevity of employment with the Ben's family, there are a few Ben's employees who have more than a quarter of a million dollars in their accounts.
Our approximate $27,000,000 revenue is broken down into various revenue centers, with approximately 50% attributed to dining room sales, 37% to counter and delivery sales and 13% to catering sales. We have a weekly payroll cost of approximately $170,000 per week (or $9,000,000 per year). Our product costs, including beverages, kosher meats, kosher poultry, paper goods, bread, pickles, desserts, groceries, condiments, etc., amount to approximately $9,300,000. With an approximate income before taxes of 1.35% in year 2016, you can only imagine what the rental, insurance, utilities and additional costs we incur to bring us to just a 1.35% income, and that's before taxes.
Having said this, is anyone out there crazy enough to go into this business? Maybe you would want to purchase a ready-made mini chain of Kosher restaurants?
See ya at the Deli.
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.
February 2017 (Greenvale, New York)
Dear President Trump,
It has come to my attention that your daughter, Ivanka Trump Kushner, who converted to Orthodox Judaism, found that there is a dearth of kosher restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area, where she will be residing for the foreseeable future.
Well, let it be known that Ben's Kosher Delicatessen Restaurant & Caterers would entertain the idea of opening a unit in the District of Columbia to satisfy the kosher needs of Ivanka, Jared and their children. While Donald Jr's wife is of some Jewish descent, Tiffany Trump's boyfriend is Jewish and was raised in the heart of kosher deli land in New York City. And, I would like to think that, being a true New Yorker, you might even indulge in having dinner with your family at a Ben's of Washington, D.C.
I can see it now. A Ben's with the vestibule being renamed the Congressional Lobby. The left side of the dining room for the Democrats, while the right side of the dining room would be reserved for the Republicans. And, smack in the middle of the dining room, would roam the Independents. Of course, it would have to have some smaller private party rooms (or shall we call them “Caucus Rooms”) with the Black Congressional Caucus and the Charles Schumer Jewish Congressional Caucus (although I thought it could also be called the Al Franken Witty Caucus). Of course, what would it be without the great Women of the Senate and House of Representatives Caucus Room? I'd even have a separate dining room specifically for nine, because I wouldn't want the Supreme Court to be discriminated against! Let's see, I would have the restrooms built with the women on the right (because they always are), men on the left, and another bathroom – unnamed thus far – for our changing mores.
Phew! I am almost done with my imaginings, but I do need some help: Does anyone happen to know a real estate billionaire who could help make it happen?????
See ya at the Deli.
January 2017 (Greenvale, New York)
Happy New Year! I hope you had a lovely time spending the holidays with your loved ones!
As with every New Year, I spend the early part of January wondering what the future holds. This year, my thoughts have migrated to when I’ll retire and whether I’ll downsize. I also wonder how we’ll mature to withstand the changing tastes and demographics of the millennial generation.
The New Year also reminds me to be grateful for all that I have experienced and amassed over the last 45 years – whether it be family (especially my grandchild), friends, colleagues, restaurants or material things – and all that I still have. I can still walk, albeit more slowly. I still have great recall, except for more recent events. I can still analyze and think and write, it just takes me longer to accomplish – my being easily distracted does not help. But one thing that does seem to be escaping me is my hearing, especially when I am among the cacophony of restaurant sounds. I also have less patience with sports, but I am increasingly mesmerized by the news and world events than ever before.
One of my favorite things to think about in the New Year is all of the employees who graduated from Ben's University through the years. I am so proud of those have gone onto successful careers and especially grateful for those who have chosen Ben’s AS their career path. I also reminisce about all of the dedicated employees who have passed away. And, I can't stop thinking of all my loyal patrons, and their children and grandchildren, who I have gotten to know and serve for nearly 45 years. I really appreciate all of the patrons who resettled in the new land of milk and honey – South Florida – and continue to patronize Ben's at our Boca Raton location!
What a roller coaster ride it has been! And, I have you to thank for all of it! If not for you, I couldn't indulge myself in these musings. Thank you for being a loyal customer and a Ben’s Friend. I look forward to continuing to grow older together.
See ya at the deli.
December 2016 (Greenvale, New Yok)
It's November 18th and I've been charged with writing a December piece for “Ronnie's Blog.” Blog? Is that a noun or a verb? Someone may have a blog (noun), but can he or she also blog (verb)? This is a strange new world for me. When someone first asked me to go online, I didn't know it was only one word; I thought it was two! In fact, I asked, where is the line and how long is it?
Once I started to realize that this was a brave new world for this soon to be septuagenarian** (okay, I am only 68), I came to grips with this new age of ours which is inundated with Millennials who seem forever distracted by their cell phone – either talking or texting, and sometimes even both … at the same time!
I am being forced into giving up my flip phone because I can't see pictures of my two-year-old granddaughter, and she can't see me unless I visit her. My wife told me it's called FaceTime (so if I use this mode of communication will I be FaceTiming?). I tell my wife she is a show off. With pride, she tells me she now pays our home and personal bills on a machine that is much smaller than a computer. She said she uses a tablet. I asked her if I could see this tablet, thinking that after seeing this I might have to take an aspirin tablet.
It is all so confusing to me. Now, when I receive an email, it oftentimes says “Sent from an iPhone.” Does that mean it belongs to the "I" that sent it? Sometimes it says sent from my Blackberry. I happen to like blackberries and I never knew that blackberries were an acceptable form of communication. I also now get these little pictures of people smiling, people with a halo, people crying and a host of other little symbols that I don't understand and I have to ask people around me what it means.
I thought taking Spanish in school and college was an achievement, and that learning a smattering of Yiddish was also an accomplishment, but, now, after all these years, I have to learn the whole new language of Millennials.
I think I need to go back and re-read George Orwell's book, “1984” (which I read in appx 1964).
See ya at the deli. A Very Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah to all!
November 2016 (Greenvale, New York)
I naively thought that college and later a tour as a VISTA volunteer (the domestic Peace Corps now known as AmeriCorps) would prepare me for the new world I was about to enter 44 years ago. How wrong I was! Nothing would make me smarter than the business interactions I encountered over the years.
I still remember the time a man delivered a huge crate to the bagel store next to the only Ben's location at the time. The owner's son called up his dad (the owner of the store) and, when he did, the person who delivered the package said he'd like to speak to the father. On the phone, the owner told the delivery person that he never ordered anything and told the man to take it back. But, when the delivery man got off the phone (and made certain to hang up the phone), he told the son that his father recalled ordering it and that he, the son, should pay for it. After the man collected $100 and left, the son opened the package. Much to his consternation, he found a little toy about two inches long in a box that was well over three-foot by four-foot!
Moral of the story: Never believe anyone or anything, get confirmation from your superiors, make certain that you see the merchandise and ensure that it is delivered as advertised.
This proved a very useful lesson when Ben's had an order for 50 filet of sole dinners delivered to a specified location and the recipient said he wasn't paying $7.50 per dinner as agreed upon but would only pay $5 per dinner. The driver then called me at the restaurant and I immediately told him to return to the restaurant and, if the man asks to get on the phone with me, not to listen to anything that he might say. The last direction my delivery person heard from me was to take the order back! Sure enough, when he returned to the restaurant, the driver told me that after the customer spoke with me, he told my driver that I had said it was okay to leave it for the reduced price of $5 per dinner. The driver took it back. To this day, I always wondered what that customer told his 50 Friday night guests. He probably ordered Pizza! But, I wasn’t about to turn my business into an auction or a Lebanese Bazaar!
Another time, I had left the restaurant briefly to purchase stamps. When I returned, my neon window sign was gone. I asked the counter man, “what happened?” and he said a man had come in with a paper indicating that he could take the sign out of the restaurant. As I threw my keys on the counter in disgust, I said to my employee: “if he had a piece of paper saying he could take the register, would you have let him?!”
But, nothing beats the time a man appeared at one of the stores and showed the manager a service order for a slicing machine (a slicing machine that didn't need service). The service order stated that the machine had to be taken to the shop to be serviced. Since it was extremely heavy, the manager and other Ben's workers held the door open and helped him carry the $1,200 slicing machine (the cost of the machine 22 years ago) to his station wagon. I am still looking for that slicing machine over 20 years later.
Now I ask you, what college course could prepare you for this?
October 2016 (Greenvale, New York)
As I sit behind my desk in front of my computer, I was thinking of my more challenging customers through the years. But why should I dwell on any customers who, by and large, made it possible for me to spend time writing this blog?
Let me rather speak about landlords with whom I have had the distinct pleasure of jousting through the years. Or should I? Will I risk a lease termination for some trumped up charge of a lease transgression? Will I be made to pay a higher rent if I simply remained mute on some of the egregious behaviors I have witnessed? Or just not be renewed upon lease term end? Oh heck, why should I jeopardize my business for some whimsical recollections with the powers that be?
So, let me just relate two customer stories about that master of the franchising business, McDonald’s. The same McDonald’s with those arches on the original build outs with the exterior sign--- forever changing-- about the millions of burgers that were sold up to that point. When I first opened the Ben’s in Woodbury, my wife and I were working the deli takeout counter when a woman (hereinafter referred to as Mommy) came to the counter to order food. Mommy was accompanied by her very young daughter who was given a pickle (gratis) by my wife. Mommy asked my wife about the chicken fingers. Suddenly, she was raising her voice so that I could also hear her protestations about the price of the chicken fingers. After saying three times that she could go to McDonald’s, I said, in a low voice, “So go to McDonald’s!” With her daughter now crying because of this aggressive manner, mommy said, “who told me to go to McDonald’s?” My wife, always honest to a fault, said it was her husband, ME!!!!! Forget that we use Empire kosher breast which we cut into fingers and not pressed chicken; forget that we process this on the premises; and forget that we make these to order. People believe what they want to believe!
Now onto the next McDonald’s story. Here I am working the Ben’s in Boca Raton when the waiter hands me a note stating that a patron wants to see me in the dining room at the same time I am working the corned beef slicing machine with a line out the door wrapping around the block; and with a dining room seating capacity of 250!!! Needless to say, we were extremely busy….but I asked another counterman to take my place on the corned beef slicing machine and went to visit this other mommy at her table (after my wife was nice enough to point her out). Once there, I was hit with a loud and disconcerting verbal attack: “do you call this a burger (it was a Kids Burger)? Perplexed, I looked at the burger and sure enough it looked like the kid’s burger. So I asked mom, “What’s wrong?” She said it was "a disgrace."
I looked at the daughter who was clearly uncomfortable with mom’s yelling and I asked again, “What’s wrong?” whereupon, mom said screaming, “I could go to McDonald’s!” She then added as I was walking away muttering to myself that she---mom--- would make sure to tell her Rabbi. Having stopped in my tracks, I walked back to the table and said, make sure you tell your Rabbi about going to McDonald’s! There I was, shaking my head, heading back to the corned beef slicing machine and wondering about McDonald’s and thinking that maybe I should open a kosher knock-off calling it McDavid's!!!
See ya at the Deli!
September 2016 (Greenvale, New York)
As the next season befalls us, we will see the leaves change from green to orange, to red and to yellow until, ultimately, there are no leaves.... leaving us with barren trees to view until next Spring – my favorite season.
Certainly, as I get older, the changing of the seasons becomes more precious with much more meaning and import. How many storms, snowstorms, blizzards and hurricanes will we have to endure? How many potholes will we have to traverse this winter? How many electric outages will leave us shivering to the bone?
But, I will happily endure these mini hardships for the right to write about these events months, and even years, later. It means that I will celebrate the traditional celebrations of my ancestors, including Thanksgiving with my soon-to-be expanding family, and other joyous winter events, along with the turning of the calendar marking yet another year away from my birth.
I don't know about you, but when I was a youngster, I always felt that a person in their forties was a senior citizen. Now, at age 68, I don't think of myself as an older person except when I buy a train or movie ticket which accords me a very special joy! And, I have learned to come to grips with the fact that (especially when people ask me to open in Boston, Chicago, DC or Las Vegas) my body and mind will simply not let me do this any longer!
See ya at the Deli!
As is the custom in modern times, every January, the President of the United States offers a State of the Union Address to a joint session of the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate in the larger House Chamber.
Let me take this opportunity to offer a Ben's State of the "Union," albeit in written form.
Ben's has weathered a sea of change, or paradigm shift in the marketplace in which we operate. With an explosion of fast food establishments in the country, and specifically in metro New York, along with the bevy of fast casual restaurants and a wider array of prepared foods offered in most supermarkets, it is no wonder the kosher and Jewish-style delicatessen restaurants and appetizing stores have closed their doors – most recently at an alarming rate.
But, I guess what is more disturbing is a thought I have expressed for the last twenty years: with each generation that is removed from the immigrant experience comes a decrease in loyalty to the neighborhood kosher deli.
It is my obligation to keep this tradition alive; not only because this is what I have been doing for 44 years, but because I have developed a kinship for the business and what it has meant to all those who enjoy having a community fashioned around their neighborhood "hangout" – the neighborhood kosher deli – and the memories of patrons who argued that their kosher deli was the best! Sadly, there are fewer and fewer of us left. Exploding rents have not helped the cause!
In 1980, I placed an ad with a picture of my newborn son in a Ben's cap with the blurb: "My Pop has the Best Kosher Deli in the World!" I plan to place an ad very soon with a picture of my granddaughter, but with a slightly different blurb: "My Pop Pop has the Best Kosher Delis in the World!"
Let's Keep the Tradition Alive!
See ya at the Deli!
Author's Note: I wrote this blog 1.5 years ago, when I was devastated by the news that my wife, Cindy, had breast cancer. Today, two surgeries and two bouts of chemotherapy and daily radiation later, Cindy is doing great! We celebrated our 40th Wedding Anniversary on April 4, and, unlike me, Cindy's hair has grown back....just curlier and grayer than before!
Cindy and I have been married for 38.5 years and have raised two wonderful children who are now succeeding in their professional careers. This past week, we learned the devastating news that Cindy has breast cancer, which has spread to her lymph nodes; but the full prognosis and exactly what stage she has will be provided sometime in the coming week. My world came tumbling down.
This has made me realize what is important and how much I love and care for my wife. I can no longer take all of the little things for granted. All that she has done for me and our children to support us and help us become better than we were individually can no longer be taken for granted as well. No more jokes about marriage, no more complaints about my wife.
Through the years, if not for her prodding, I wouldn't have found out I am diabetic, that I have too much bad cholesterol (and not enough good) and that I have high blood pressure. And I certainly would not have taken all the medications that were prescribed. But in all the time she was caring for me, she never had a mammography and was always hesitant to go to a gynecologist. I couldn't press the issue because, for all who know my wife, Cindy is her own person with strong beliefs and a stubbornness that exceeds my own. Now, we both know differently. I should have been relentless and she should have been more amenable to my exhortations.
All that I can do now is shed tears for all the regrets that I have and reflect on the life I spent never fully appreciating what my wife meant to me. She stayed in tremendous shape for a 50-something woman, helped me grow our small business and has been by my side at every store I opened throughout our marriage, working full-time herself until about ten years ago.
Now, all these questions come to the fore: Was I sensitive enough? Was I loving enough? Was I attentive to her needs?... But, all I can say is "I am sorry" and reassure my wife that I will be by her side through every painful step of this frightening journey and unknown path. I will block most everything else out from my life except for Cindy, our family and this latest overwhelming journey in our life together. And, I will be more loving than I've ever been.
Thanks for listening.