November 2022 Ruminations & Ronnifications

My name is Todd Silverstein and I am the Chief Operating Officer of the Ben’s Restaurant Group. I have worked closely with Ronnie for over thirty years during which time he has been both a good friend and invaluable mentor.  I began this journey in the Walt Whitman Mall where Ronnie built a Ben’s Express Deli. My first Ben’s management position was in our Carle Place location in the fall of 1992. At that point, things changed for me as I now found my new career path. I have been the General Manager of the Ben’s in Greenvale, Woodbury, and now back to Greenvale where I was able to work with and interact with Ronnie on an almost daily basis. Over these thirty years, I have catered large corporate BBQ’s, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, birthday parties on and off premises, engagement parties, weddings as well as going to out of town synagogues from venues as far away as Arizona, Vermont, Washington, D.C., while our Boca Raton location takes care of the state of Florida going from south Florida to Jacksonville in northern Florida. What makes this truly amazing is that we are now catering events for the offspring of those who we catered their bris, bar and bat mitzvahs, engagements, and weddings so many years ago.

Fast forward now to 2022 where we are celebrating 50 years in business.

I am responsible for leading a great team of over 240 employees. My goals are simple. Continue to keep the tradition alive while adapting to this very changing world with all the challenges we now face. With the dining rooms seeing a nice uptick in business, we will once again have weekend dinner specials in addition to the weekday dinner specials, we now offer. Sometime in the early winter we hope to engineer a Meatless Monday menu. All Ben’s locations now have gluten free bread and our plant-based menus and vegetarian options will continue to expand and be refined. Our Supervising Chef Atilio Celis will be coming to your local Ben’s in the coming months. Lastly, Ronnie’s daughter, Jaime Passy, has become involved with Ben’s overseeing our social media working closely with our Marketing Manager, Mr. Al Olle.

We thank you for helping us to keep the tradition alive and as my good friend and mentor Ronnie would say…

Hope to see you all at the deli soon,

Todd Silverstein
Chief Operating Officer
Ben’s Restaurant Group

October 2022 Ruminations & Ronnifications

In over thirty years in writing for the hard copy Deli E Newsletter, and now the monthly On-line Newsletter, I’ve pretty much exhausted my interesting and funny stories, celebrations, and memories.  Nothing in college, nothing in the streets of New York City, and nothing in my prior life experiences could have  prepared me for the kosher deli business.

But I have now lived it for 50 years and survived … and thrived. And we are still listening to our patrons – new and old – so that we can innovate, and keep up with changing times and  habits.

In the coming months you will hear from Mr. Todd Silverstein, our Chief Operating Officer, as well as our Vice-President, Ms. Gilah Salzano. I am sure they will have some interesting insights and thoughts as to how we best position ourselves the balance of this decade and beyond.

In the meantime, I will resume writing, Confessions of a Kosher Deli Clerk, that began over twenty years ago with forty pages written and then stowed away for future resumption. It’s time for me to resume my excursion into creative writing. Until then, I will continue advising Todd and Gilah as they do the grunt work needed to sustain Ben’s.

Thank you  for your   loyalty and most importantly your friendships, that developed through the last 50 years.

On Tuesday, October 25th we will be celebrating our 50 year anniversary in every Ben’s by giving 50% off  on all dining room checks.  Come join us and enjoy the savings and celebration.

See ya at the deli,
Ronnie

September 2022 Ruminations & Ronnifications

Hi everyone. Jaime, Ronnie’s daughter, here. My dad asked if I’d be interested in writing the blog this month, so here I am. I am a teacher by trade and one thing I always encouraged my students to do was ask questions. Questions are powerful. They foster thinking and wonder. This gave me an idea. Let’s go back to the basics.  Since I came back to work at Ben’s last summer- after working there on and off throughout high school and college- I was inundated with questions from friends regarding certain foods, preparation, etc., so it made me think our customers were curious as well.

Let’s start with an anecdote about Howard Stern. Many years ago, when Howard Stern lived on Long Island, he frequented our Greenvale store. One day he asked his server the difference between a square and round knish in which his server replied, “Four corners!” Well, Howard Stern went on his radio show and rehashed this interaction for all to hear!! So, let’s uncover some of these Kosher mysteries. I asked a handful of customers and friends and here’s what I got…

What makes meat kosher?

Um, the preparation.”

“The meat is blessed by a rabbi.”

“It’s the type of meat and the way it is prepared.”

“It’s the way it’s slaughtered, and the rabbi blesses it.”

The truth is:

For meat to be considered kosher, it must be slaughtered properly. This Jewish practice is called shechita. Jewish law also prohibits the consumption of any blood, so once the animal has been killed, the meat undergoes a special soaking and salting process to remove the blood. Kosher meat is from the forequarter of the animal, not the hindquarter. (No shellfish, no pork either!)

What is goulash?

“Rainboots.”

“Egg noodles and meat.”

“A jail in Russia.”

“A mix of vegetables that I won’t eat.”

“It’s beef and noodles with a brown sauce.”

The truth is:

Goulash is made with stew meat. It was an Eastern European peasant food since it was then a cheaper cut of meat that had to be cooked for longer periods of time to become tender.

What’s the difference between a square and round knish?

“A round knish has no corners.”

“The round tastes better (laughs).”

“The angles.”

“Hmm, maybe you would you get more with the square?”

“One is baked the other is fried.”

“Round is baked, square is fried.”

“One of them definitely has meat in it.”

“I think that is one is potato, and one is something else.”

The truth is:

The difference between the homemade round knishes and the Coney Island Squares is four corners. On a more serious note, the homemade round knishes are baked while the squares are fried.

What is gefilte fish?

“Disgusting (laughs) It’s a bottom feeder.

“Oh g-d I don’t know, I don’t eat fish. I have no idea, dead fish.”

“Fish that’s been through a grinder.”

“It’s sort of like a fish patty.”

“It’s pickled herring, isn’t it? Wait no, it’s the gold coins.” (spoken by a true Shiksa from out of state)

“Slimy fish, and you eat with horseradish sauce.”

“Smoked fish, mackerel.”

“It’s a silver fish.”

“It’s like a pickled fish.”

“A mixture of whitefish, halibut and chopped onions.”

The truth is:

Gefilte fish is made by removing bones from various white fish like carp, whitefish, mullet, and pike, grinding them up and then mixing with breadcrumbs and eggs. It’s essentially a fish burger or patty.

What’s the difference between sour and half sour pickles?

“One is olive green, and the other is regular green.”

“Hmm, sour has been fermented longer.”

“Ummm, one will make you make a funnier face than the other.”

“The color and all pickles should be half sour.”

“The amount of vinegar used.”
“The way they’re made, and they both start out as cucumbers.”

“The color and maybe the cucumbers you use?”

“One has more vinegar.”

“Something to do with the brine, but I’m not entirely sure.”

The truth is:

It takes up to six months to make Kirby cucumbers into sour pickles while half sours (or also referred to as new pickles) takes days/weeks.

So, there you have it. Some on point, some entertaining, and some responses completely off the grid. Whatever the response, it was fun to be a part of these conversations.

It has been a year since I came back to work with the amazing team at Ben’s and I’ve truly enjoyed my time here. My dad began the Ben’s journey 50 years ago and I intend on helping keep our family tradition alive by bringing new generations into our restaurants. So, as my dad always says, “See you (and your kids and grandkids) at the deli!”

Best,
Jaime Dragoon Passy
JPassy@bensdeli.net

August 2022 Ruminations & Ronnifications

As you may know, we are celebrating our 50th year in business, and our 40th year in Greenvale where we will be having a ribbon cutting ceremony in October of this year with our vendors, our key employees (although one could argue all of our employees are key and an integral part of our success over these past fifty years), and our local politicians on our expansion of outdoor dining as well as a makeover of the Greenvale restaurant giving it a more modern look. This has been a key to our success which is to innovate and keep up with the times.

Wow! And yes, I am still surprised that Ben’s 50th year is upon us as I sit in my home office and wonder where all the years have gone. Then I was a starry eyed, idealistic young man and now I am a 74 year old grizzled (and some say grumpy) senior citizen. I’ve learned things I could never learn in college. In fact, I recommend this type of education for everyone no matter their background nor educational pedigree. What I have learned about people, vendors, and government can only be learned in what I call, “the trenches.”

And there I have been for 47 of those years with my wife Cindy and major support throughout the years. Who else would tolerate the hours and days I worked other than my best friend, companion and mother of our two children, Joshua and Jaime? Without such support I could never have grown Ben’s from a single store to as many as ten but now with six still standing despite the Pandemic and an upside down world. For that I am thankful to my family and ask forgiveness for all the birthdays, weddings and special occasions that Cindy, Josh and Jaime missed their daddy. My family gave up much but we all gained much from of our efforts. Not bad for a kid who lived in eight different places by age 14 whose family was evicted from apartments multiple times and whose parents one excursion into home ownership at age 6 resulted in a mortgage foreclosure two years later. All this made me, for better or worse, strive for success as I defined it. So now I must also thank all our patrons–past and present–for helping me continue on this journey.

With best regards,
Ronnie Dragoon
CEO/Founder

July 2022 Ruminations & Ronnifications

Once again, I’ve been given the monthly task of writing a blog for the E Deli Newsletter … so after about twenty years of writing this monthly piece, I was bereft of ideas. Then, suddenly, I realized that it is July 4th and what better topic than that of our founding fathers. Men (and women) of character, of letters, they dotted the landscape of the colonies. Political philosophers who sought to emulate the great Greek philosophers and the English Magna Carta. Hamilton, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Jay, are just some of the names I remember from my political science classes (from over 55 years ago). Not without warts, they still represented the best of America. Legal scholars, inventors, reluctant politicians, authors of the Declaration of Independence, author of the Bill of Rights (presently under attack) and of course, our United States Constitution which I believe should be a living document.

So to everyone at Ben’s –– customers, vendors and employees –– I wish you a Happy July 4th using the month of July as a reflection of where we have been and gone and where we shall go to make this a more perfect union.

Thank you all for your patronage and for helping me keep the kosher tradition alive.

With best regards,
Ronnie Dragoon
CEO/Founder

June 2022 Ruminations & Ronnifications

Did we really get through this past winter?
It felt like it would never end …  Then two 90-degree days in a row.
The transition from winter to spring is much like life. You never know what to expect or what will happen next.

So, where do we stand?
The cost of gas is through the roof.
The cost of freight has affected every industry.
Produce prices are up in many cases 30%.
Kosher meat and poultry are up in some cases 30%.
Canned goods are all greatly affected by freight, and import costs have dramatically increased.
Labor shortages are palpable.

So, what do I think the future holds?
Hope!
Hope for a better world, a more peaceful world, where the weakest and most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters will be able to have food on their tables, a roof over their heads and safety in schools.
Let’s not take steps backward. Let’s move forward and hope for better people on the world stage with a sense of decency and compassion.

Wait, I have to get back to work behind the deli counter instead of pontificating.

I will never forget my roots and I will never ever lose hope.

With best regards,
Ronnie Dragoon
CEO/Founder

May 2022 Ruminations & Ronnifications

April showers bring May flowers. So how is this related to Ben’s? Well, we will be finished in May with our renovation of our Greenvale flagship location … so as the flowers bloom the newly renovated Ben’s will as well.

It is a true labor of love as we emerge from the darkness of the last two years. We plan on celebrating our 40th year of Ben’s Greenvale and our 50th in business  in October with a grand celebration. And to think that it all began with a formerly bankrupt location (twice) in Baldwin in 1972!

Fifty years in business attained at the age of seventy-four when I used to think anyone fifty years of age was old. I guess we keep moving the goal posts. Now, let’s sit back and bask in the accomplishment and celebrate the rebirth of our flowers and the Ben’s Greenvale rehabilitation, just in time for Mother’s Day. And let’s give a shout out to our patrons, vendors, employees and mothers. Without them, all this couldn’t have been accomplished …so again, thank you all.

See ya at the Deli,
Ronnie

April 2022 Ruminations & Ronnifications

The Year is 2022. The Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen Journey began in 1972. A half century ago and at the same time as:

5 White House operatives were arrested for burglarizing the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the start of the Watergate Scandal.

The United States and Soviet Union signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

11 Israel Athletes were murdered by Arab Gunman at Munich Olympics.

NASA’s Space Shuttle Program was officially launched.

Bloody Friday 22 bombs exploded in Belfast Ireland.

Antiwar demonstrations drew 100,000 demonstrators in US cities.

The Dow Jones closed above 1000 for the first time in history.

Roberta Flack, Don McClean, Helen Reddy, Neil Young, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Judy Collins …

Ah what memories …

And I am making this prediction: Ben’s will survive and thrive for the next 50 plus years, as we grow and continue to adapt to change:

How will this be done?

Instead of Goodman, Levine, Budofsky we have Flores, Molina, Velasquez.

In addition to fatty corned beef, we have vegan corned beef.

In addition to a #7 (corned beef and pastrami), we have wraps, and paninis.

Instead of hearty beef stew, we have vegetarian chili … and the beat goes on.

And so, this year we’ll be celebrating fifty years in business with monthly specials … and with Todd Silverstein (COO) and Gilah Salzano (VP) at the helm, the journey will continue and together we will reach new heights.

And from the Ben’s Family to your family: May you and your loved ones have a sweet, happy, healthy, reflective and peaceful Passover and Easter.

And please don’t forget to place your holiday orders early.

See ya at the Deli,
Ronnie

March 2022 Ruminations & Ronnifications

GUEST BLOG
by Rabbi Paul Plotkin, Rav Hamachshir (Supervising Rabbi) of Ben’s

Is it important for Ben’s to be kosher?

Not really, if you have no sense of the Jewish community, but that has never been Ronnie’s way. Ronnie understood that the synagogue and the deli were two of the institutions that Jews came to, to be amongst Jews, and to feel like they were part of a community.

Seventy years ago, most Jews went to Temple and most Jews went to the deli. Some went to the synagogue to talk to God others went to talk to their shule buddies. Some went to the deli primarily to eat; many went to hang out with their buddies in a Jewish space.

As Jews have increasingly assimilated, they have attended both spaces less frequently. Synagogues are shrinking, merging, or closing, and Jewish Delis have almost disappeared. Both are struggling to stay alive and relevant, not only for their own survival but for the ethnic and religious survival of our people, which brings me to why Ben’s needs to be kosher.

The majority of non-Orthodox Jews do not keep kosher. The majority of Orthodox Jews and certainly all the Ultra-Orthodox not only eat kosher they eat a very stringent version of kosher, invoking ever increasingly difficult and restrictive rules that go far beyond being kosher. I once wrote an article for a Conservative Magazine arguing that we needed a new kosher symbol, The KE, Kosher Enough. Make sure the food is kosher and that no dairy enters the store, but it is enough that the meat is kosher, it doesn’t have to be Glatt Kosher. Through a rental arrangement that follows Jewish law, the store can be rented to a non-Jew for shabbat and Yom Tov and remain open. In such a way the cost of food would only be expensive not exorbitant, and the store would not have to pay for over 2 months of closure while paying full market price for the rent. This enables the store to offer a higher quality of food at lower cost than a Glatt Kosher restaurant.

Ronnie read that article and invited me to look at his restaurants. Eventually he asked me to supervise the chain.

But again, why be kosher at all?

Because there is a cross section of people who still keep kosher and want to have a place to go to eat and to schmooze with their friends and family who may not keep kosher.

The Synagogue that I served as Rabbi for 33 years was called Beth Am, the House of the People. We were a traditional Conservative synagogue and of course kosher, but I enforced a stricter standard such as only using kosher cheese and kosher wine while some synagogues permitted non supervised versions of both(and they had legitimate reasons to do so) but I wanted the House of the People to reach out to a wider population. I wanted the families of those coming to a simcha to feel comfortable to eat in our synagogue and celebrate together at the parties. At the same time, I drew the line at the “extra stringencies” as that would have backfired and precisely alienated the people I wanted to attend.

Ultra-Orthodox were not walking into my building let alone eating there, but the more traditional Jews including the modern Orthodox would come and we could be a more expansive community.

About 12 % of Bens’ customers come because we are kosher, and they can come with their non-kosher friends and family and enjoy together. The food is great so non-kosher Jews (and gentiles are always invited) can be comfortable with Ben’s, and the food is kosher so kashruth observers can come and hang with their non-kosher buddies. We are still a place that many in the community can gather in a warm, comfortable, maybe even nostalgic environment. (I would have said “Haymish” but to explain would have necessitated another paragraph)

Is it important for Ben’s to be kosher?

I think so. I hope you do too.

February 2022 Ruminations & Ronnifications

It is cold outside, the world is still reeling from the effects of Covid, and I am still trying with our executive team to navigate staffing shortages, inflation and supply chain issues. We are paying 30% to 40% more for meat, poultry, paper, plastic, aluminum, etc. The instability of the marketplace is witnessed as daily price changes take effect. At one time I could plan for the future with monthly or quarterly pricing, however now we must try to make it all work within days of the price changes.  And then there are shortages. No knockwursts or casing hot dogs available for months… and no Cel Ray soda? What is a deli to do?

This is no easy task.  What do we do to make it all work and remain a viable business?

Well, luckily, we have been thinking and planning new promotions. In case you have not heard… it is Bens’ 50th Anniversary.  And what better way to celebrate our golden anniversary than with monthly anniversary specials using the number 50 and the number 1972, the year we began this journey. We then must align labor with our fluctuating daily and weekly sales. If we are to survive, we must be more efficient… and we ask for a little patience from our loyal patrons during these tumultuous times.

Additionally, we just received a huge shipment of casing hot dogs, knockwursts, and cel-ray soda, finally! I have never been so excited for a hot dog or soda delivery. Things that always were and still are exciting to me. So, it should be no surprise to those who know me, that I am overly excited by our anticipated refurbishment of our flagship Ben’s, Greenvale, prior to, during and after the Passover holidays as we continue to operate throughout the reconstruction. I hope you’ll be as excited as I am as I prepare to transfer “power” with a newly refurbished store to our Chief Operating Officer, Mr. Todd Silverstein, and our Vice President, Ms. Gilah Salzano, and my best daughter, Ms. Jaime Dragoon Passy, my only daughter, but it makes her feel great and as a parent what makes my daughter happy makes me happy.

See ya at the Deli,
Simply,
Ronnie

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