January 2021 Ruminations & Ronnifications

As I contemplate the New Year of 2021, I bid adieu to the tumultuous 2020, whose year-end could not come soon enough.

Although I was born after World War II, I never experienced so much angst around the world as I have witnessed this year. And never in my 48 years in business have I had to implement change on a continuum in order to survive.

Very few businesses have gone unscathed with most suffering terrible losses and dislocation; restaurants finding themselves at the helm, one of the hardest sectors hit in this new world order.

So here I sit contemplating the future of Ben’s… and what I hope is a new, sustainable, and easier year. I am grateful for my employees and loyal customers whom have entrusted me and enabled me to reach this day. We have been, and continue to be, in this together.

As such, Ben’s has spared no expense in an effort to provide the safest possible environment for those who shop and work in our stores. We most recently upgraded and installed the MERV-13 air filters and UV-C air purification lamps to kill pathogens/micro-organisms in the air by exposure to UV radiation. Although these are non-binding government agency recommendations and are not intended to make a definitive statement concerning the transmittal of the virus, we are trying to take a proactive approach and do all that we can to ensure the safest possible environment.

We look forward to serving you in the New Year, at our takeout counter, or with a delivery to your door step, meeting you at the curb, or serving you in our open dining rooms. Whatever your pleasure, we appreciate your business, loyalty and trust, now more than ever.

Wishing you all a happy, healthy and safe New Year!

See ya at the deli,

Simply,
Ronnie

December 2020 Ruminations & Ronnifications

The year was 1988. The object of my affections: a beeper. For those who don’t remember, that’s how improved communications first started… the beeper, then a plain cell phone, then the fancy flip phones… and in 2017, I surrendered to those nudging me to upgrade. So a smart phone I purchased. And three years later I often wonder how for most of my years on this planet I got along without this piece of equipment.

We all laugh how my generation was tethered to a landline, a phone without mobility. No different now how we all laugh (or cry) how this generation is tethered to their cell phone or mobile device. See, though time marches on, the same issues continue to plague all generations. So as much as we think that things are different, they are the same…

Just like Ben’s.

So many things have changed during the past forty-eight years, and exponentially these past 10 months, but the foundation and mission remains constant. Make happy customers. We have and will continue to adjust to meet your needs and help navigate through our new normal. No matter what we face, we will face together always providing wholesome and delicious food in a safe and secure environment.

Thank you for your patience, support, and commitment. I am indebted, as you have helped to keep Ben’s, which I have nurtured all these years, alive. Please remember us for Chanukah and any holiday parties you may plan. We have adjusted our packages and platters to accommodate smaller groups.

Stay healthy and safe.

Simply,
Ronnie

November 2020 Ruminations & Ronnifications

I am sitting in my home office listening to Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, the Weavers and realizing that many of our patrons do not know or remember these traveling troubadours of years gone by.

I needed a diversion.  I have been spending so much time working in my home office, I asked my wife to do her Amazon Prime thing and see if she could order a phonograph player (otherwise known as a Victrola).

Sure enough it arrived within a few days and I had to go to an old cabinet where my old (now referred to as vintage) records were stored. Retrieving my old-time favorites now playing on my Victrola, I recall the days of marching for peace, civil rights, and progressive causes.

In the same way I am nostalgic about these times in my life,  poets and singers, I also think about my life’s work and Kosher Delis, and how things  have  changed. I sadly recall the time when there were three kosher delis on the same block in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Now we are lucky if there are three kosher delis in each of those boroughs.

I am determined for others in the Ben’s organization to continue this journey, and as always, I will do everything in my power, to keep the tradition alive. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our management team and employees, and of course, all our loyal  patrons for helping in this endeavor. I would also like to thank my wife for bringing  music to my ears, which has been so uplifting  and joyful in these crazy and uncertain times.

Wishing everyone a very happy, bountiful and healthy Thanksgiving, at Ben’s or in your home.

Stay safe. Stay strong. Stay well.

See ya at the deli.

Simply,
Ronnie

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