The day has finally come.
Kaufman’s Deli is returning and no one could be happier than Bette Dworkin, the owner of the deli that has been a Skokie destination since 1960.
Kaufman’s is about to open a new chapter in the store’s history about one year following the fire that destroyed the Dempster Street store. The new era for the deli and bakery is scheduled to open its doors once again this Monday morning, Nov. 5.
“It has changed me,” Dworkin said reflecting on the past year. “It has given me a tremendous dose of not being in control of my world. It forced me to be patient with some things and I am not really a patient person, but I didn’t have a choice.”
The road to Kaufman’s Deli -
Bette Dworkin is the fourth generation of her family that has been in the food business. Her father, Arnold Dworkin, purchased the deli and bakery in the early 1980s from Maury Kaufman, the original owner.
While Arnold jumped in at that time, Bette decided for a different career choice. A graduate of New Trier West, Bette Dworkin received her Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing from George Washington University and among the jobs she had included running Club Med retail stores that had her living in locations such as the Caribbean, Switzerland, France and even Mexico.
That experience gave her some perspective as to how to run the 35-person operation that she now has under her belt.
“There were people I worked with where I didn’t like how I was spoken to,” Dworkin said. “I’d like to think I learned how to speak with people with respect. I learned how people handle things differently when they are faced with issues.
“I worked with some people who liked their employees to be smart and proactive and others who didn’t,” she added.
After running her own home furnishing business, Dworkin felt the call from her family in the early 1990s and took a job in the company’s factory, eventually moving into management.
She said she was drawn back to the family business after learning of the product development side of the deli operation; it gave her a chance to work firsthand on her love of bread making and manufacturing.
“I was raised from the school that bread making was an art and a craft,” she said.
Dworkin was heavily involved in the Kaufman’s wholesale business that delivered food to certain airlines and hotels along with some chain stores, but that faded away in the 2000s as business operations and food tastes changed.
That left the bakery and deli as the Kaufman’s “bread and butter.” Soon, the daughter took over the company when her father became ill and subsequently died in 2009.
Staying relevant for so many years -
All businesses have to adjust to the times to survive and Kaufman’s is no different.
“It is a difficult business because it is kind of a dinosaur in the sense there is not a lot of us around so there is not a lot of knowledge base to draw off of,” Dworkin said. “People’s eating habits have changed so the days of people standing in line around the block because they would go to their favorite bakery on Saturday morning - that doesn’t exist much anymore.”
Another challenge for Dworkin is nostalgia.
“You are competing with people’s memories,” she concedes. “So, if somebody’s grandmother 30 years ago used to make their gefilte fish or chopped liver in a certain way. If you don’t make it the way they are used to having it, then [the customer is not happy].”
And with obesity on the rise, many customers are concerned with their waistlines, Dworkin pointed out.
“We’re a little more cholesterol and diet conscience, but deli food, by its nature, is not exactly health food,” Dworkin said.
A grand opening around the corner -
Whether food is lean or fatty, rich or bland, a deli needs customers and Dworkin is hoping their clientele will be happy with the setup of the new combined store that includes a universal checkout line, which had not been the case in the past.
“We’re nervous because we know we have taken a business that looks and acted the same way since 1960 and we have physically changed the way it looks,” Dworkin admitted.
Getting Kaufman’s reopened was not easy.
Dworkin added that there were problems with obtaining a new lease, financing and how to accommodate everything in the new store. It almost became too much for Dworkin, she admitted. She even said there almost came a point where she was going to toss her hands in the air and move her iconic deli to another location. Fortunately, for Kaufman fans, that didn't happen.
What emotions will she be feeling that once the customers come in?
Dworkin put it simply: “I’m just hoping that I am not going to cry.”
Skokie Patch will be profiling a local business each Saturday for the month of November in honor of Small Business Saturday.
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