[EDITOR'S NOTE — Each week, this feature section, “Movers and Makers,” will feature the stories of the movers, launchers, entrepreneurs and makers who contribute to the vitality of the Mahoning Valley. This section is supported by our first community partner, Farmers National Bank.]
LIBERTY — For 50 years, Kravitz Deli has served the Youngstown community at 3135 Belmont Ave. — and not even the COVID-19 pandemic can stop the Mahoning Valley legend from celebrating this milestone.
Jack Kravitz, owner of Kravitz Delicatessen Inc., said he plans to signify the 50-year Belmont Avenue anniversary with menu changes to enhance the Jewish, Mediterranean and vegetarian cuisine for which Kravitz Delicatessen is known.
“We’re trying to figure out now how we’re going to celebrate,” Kravitz said. “We’ll have a new menu, so that’ll be different. We're working with our key creators and trying to create something new.”
“We’ve kicked off May with a $5 corned beef sandwich, which is less than half the price,” he added.
The Deli plans to reopen this week, tentatively Tuesday or Wednesday, based on when minor renovations are complete.
Although celebrating a milestone during the COVID-19 pandemic could be viewed as challenging, Kravitz said his deli has faced difficult times before. In fact, Kravitz Delicatessen was founded amid adversity.
Rose Kravitz, Jack’s mother, established Kravitz Delicatessen on the Northside of Youngstown in 1939 before moving to the Belmont Avenue location in 1970.
“It was her way of recovering from the Great Depression,” Kravitz said. “She wanted to find a business that she was able to go into that she could raise a family and still get an income.”
Before he took over the family business in 2006, Kravtiz said he grew up in the deli.
“We lived upstairs [at] the one on Elm Street. We lived upstairs, the deli was downstairs,” Kravitz said. “That was my high school job, and even sometimes when I was back from college.”
Kravitz said it wasn’t his plan to run Kravitz Delicatessen and he initially started a career in law. But, after his father's death in 1980, he and his wife Cynthia moved from Columbus back to Youngstown to help his mother operate the deli.
Kravitz Delicatessen then started what became a successful wholesale bagel operation out of North Jackson, producing 20,000 packs of bagels a day for Kroger, Sam's Club and Schwebel's Bakery.
According to Kravtiz, the wholesale bagel operation ran successfully for 12 years until closing
Kravitz said Cynthia, who now serves as the associate vice president of human resources at Youngstown State University, became managing attorney of the Youngstown office of the Ohio attorney general and he went on to officially run Kravitz Delicatessen Inc.
“I was 48 years old, and I said ‘Mom, you’re 88 now. Are you thinking about retiring anytime soon?’” he chuckled.
Kravitz said that time, the deli had “really gone down” and his mother was holding on to the business as a hobby, rather than the successful business it is today.
“The business was deteriorating, but she had weathered a lot of storms through the times. She saw the steel mills close on Black Monday,” he said.
Under Jack Kravtiz’s ownership, Kravitz Delicatessen Inc. has introduced Garden Cafe in Mill Creek Park and Inspired Catering.
Even with recent changes and additions, Kravitz said he remembers his mother’s dedication to Kravitz Delicatessen before her death in 2011.
According to Kravitz, Rose would still come to the deli every day for work while living at Levy Gardens Assisted Living. Even after losing her eyesight, she monitored employees and listened as they called out orders to make sure they were ringing up orders correctly and providing the best customer service.
Now, Kravitz continues to carry on his mother’s work ethic and is adapting the deli’s business model with curbside pick up services and online ordering options during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kravitz said the deli encourages customers to pay over the phone or online to avoid cash transactions.
“We set up a curbside menu with lowered prices to help people out,” he said. “Is it as big as the park and our catering and [the deli]? No, it certainly is not. We’re about 25 to 30 percent of what we were.”
Since Mill Creek Park postponed the reopening of park buildings until Aug. 30, Kravitz said he will be losing half his summer revenue that would’ve been from Garden Cafe and catering events with Inspired Catering.
But, Kravitz was determined to keep traditions — like catering Mother’s Day Brunch and Easter Brunch — alive with to-go meals and working with the Youngstown Jewish Community for a virtual Passover Seder ceremony.
For Kravitz, bringing the Youngstown community together through celebrations like Oktoberfest and St. Patrick’s Day is important. One way his business has encouraged togetherness during the COVID-19 pandemic is through donating food to first responders and to the Youngstown Rescue Mission.
Additionally, Kravitz Delicatessen collaborated with Mercy Health to sponsor meals for medical workers.
“We had a program with them where people could sponsor a meal to the hospital,” Kravitz said. “It helped everybody. It helped the first responders, it helped people who wanted to do something and frankly it helped us.”
To optimize customer and staff safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kravitz staff has undergone health and safety training and is required to wear masks. Additionally, the deli has put all tables 6-feet apart, implemented consistent sanitizing, installed plexiglass and put in a self-scanning credit card reader.
Kravitz Delicatessen Inc is open Tuesday through Friday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 330-759-7889 or visit Kravitz deli.com to place a curbside order.