Kaufman's Aims to Reopen in Skokie by September
After being devastated by a fire in November, Kaufman's Deli will builds towards a transformation.
Kaufman’s owner Bette Dworkin recently purchased the property on Dempster Street and has started rebuilding the store that was devastated by fire last November. Dworkin had considered moving west to Morton Grove, but with the help of her 76-year-old mother, Judy Kaufman’s will remain a Skokie destination.
“There is a very strong component of people that know where we are, and even if we moved across the street—any move is going to have an effect on your business,” she said.
That will come as a relief to the dedicated customer base that has been coming to the store for approximately 50 years, the last 28 of them under the Dworkin family ownership. The village is also very happy, and the Dworkins have applied for TIF funds to pay for some of the rehabilitation costs. If approved by the board, Kaufman's would be the second West Dempster business to receive funds from that TIF. Papa John’s, located just to the east, was the first.
“I think they really wanted to stay here all along if they could buy the building,” said Skokie Economic Development Coordinator Tom Thompson. “We felt that they were an iconic retailer here in the village and we wanted to do everything we could to keep them here.”
If the store re-opens in by its target date of September (Rosh Hashanah is September 16), it would mark a renaissance for the store. However, the vagaries of the construction business make that almost impossible to guarantee. Meanwhile, the transformation would complete a circle for Bette Dworkin that started after she received a phone call in the middle of the night last November that her deli was ablaze.
The culprit was a malfunctioning burner.
“It was devastating,” she recalled. "You come in and it was like a war zone. The ceilings were torn down. The windows were blown out. The roof was cut. There is water and smoke every place. It was terrible.”
Dworkin considered not rebuilding for a time and pondered a life in the bakery business without the deli, but she decided against that eventually. “I’ve had job offers over the years and I considered doing something else, but for a host of family, community and personal reasons we decided to bring it back,” she said. “It’s part of our family. When you have a family business, it is always like another child.”
But to rebuild required her to buy the property from a trust that was in the names of the grandson of the original owners. She wanted to own the building this time, believing it would make it easier to acquire financing and insurance.
The deal was eventually struck earlier this month.
When asked why she considered Morton Grove in the first place, Dworkin took a long pause before saying, “Because what we have to do for the building is pretty dramatic and because we were not sensing responsiveness from the landlord. It was a fabulous space.”
Since the fire, the wholesale component of the business has remained in business as other local bakeries have been cooperative. Dworkin credits her late father Arnold who always stressed having a good relationship with other local bakeries would be advantageous and she maintained that attitude.
Once the new building is done, Dworkin promises a better customer experience as the store will continue to employ 30 people. No longer will people have to pay separately for the baked goods on the west side of the store and the deli offerings on the other. There will now be public restrooms and more opportunities for customers to sit down and eat at the store.
Of course this process is not easy and Dworkin said there are parts of the construction and insurance she never wanted to know that she has now become familiar.
Also, there are plenty of people she has had to deal with that she certainly not want to have dinner with anytime soon.
“There are some horrifyingly shady characters,” she said in labeling this experience a roller coaster ride. “I think there are some people who did some jobs on us, but that is the past and we conduct business the way we do and they conduct business the way they do.”
Dworkin notes there were many people who were cooperative from village board members to friends who assisted her in navigating the insurance industry.
Now she waits for the day that she can reopen.
“We understand people are waiting and we look forward to welcoming everybody back into the store.”
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