Deli Renovation Gives Kravitz Hope Despite GM Closing

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — In times of economic difficulty, it’s the companies that invest in themselves that weather the storm. That’s the sentiment of Jack Kravitz, who just spent about $50,000 renovating Kravitz Delicatessen at 3135 Belmont Ave. in Liberty Township.

Literally moments after holding a “reuben-cutting” with the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber Monday to showcase the renovations, Kravitz learned of the announcement by General Motors to halt production at the GM Lordstown Complex by March 1. It’s an announcement that would otherwise make business owners think twice about spending, he said.

“It’s scary because business could tighten up,” Kravitz said. “On the other hand, if things get bad, it makes you more competitive. So maybe it was a good thing that we did it, because I might be too scared to make the decision now.”

With the direct lost of some 1,500 jobs, “you’d got to be a fool not to be a little worried,” particularly with the multiplier effect making matters worse, he said. Companies that rely on GM Lordstown, such as Comprehensive Logistics in Austintown, which employs 180, will also shut down operations when the car manufacturing plant closes.

The bad news from GM feels like a one-two punch to Liberty Township, which saw the closing of Northside Regional Medical Center in September, Kravitz said, drawing parallels to what his parents endured during the shuttering of steel mills in the area.

In 1977, Kravitz was in his 20s and away at college when he heard of the closing of Youngstown Sheet and Tube – a day long-remembered as Black Monday – ushering in a period of steel shutdowns that would last into the 1980s. It was a difficult challenge for his mother, the late Rose Kravitz, who was right in the middle of it, he said. “It was very devastating for her,” Kravitz said.

And it wasn’t the only hardship that the elder Kravitz faced while trying to keep the deli afloat. As the suburbs grew, the Jewish population living in the city dwindled and business left Liberty as shoppers took their money to the malls.

Kravitz recalls his mother talking about rations during World War II when it was difficult to get meat. She told him about how she had to greet the meat suppliers who would ride the train in and out of town, he said.

“You would have to shake his hand with an envelope in your hand so you would keep getting the supply of deli meats that you needed,” Kravitz said with a laugh.

Public perception is important, he continued, recalling a time when rumors of hard times at Kravitz Deli led to people not go there as much. Rose Kravitz’s strategy was to buy a new car and park it right in front of the store as a response to customers coming in and asking about hard times.

“They would say, ‘What do you mean downturn in business? We just bought this new car,’ ” Kravitz said. “And pretty soon the rumors stopped.”

The renovations at Kravitz Deli are along the same philosophy, he said. When things are fresh and new inside, “You’re not seen as a run-down old store in a run-down old city,” he said.

“Every time you do something like this you always see a nice bump in growth,” he said. “Everybody wants to come in and see the new place.”

Updates to the deli include fresh paint and carpeting in the back room and offices, new furnishings and flooring in the main dining area as well as an art deco-inspired wall with a pounded-metal look that features the Kravitz Deli logo. Flat-screen televisions mounted on the walls allow Kravitz to host football game-watch parties, which have become popular, especially when the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Cleveland Browns, Kravitz said.

Renovations maintain the look of the former Islay’s shop that Kravitz took over in 1970, he noted, keeping the Islay’s lights, flooring, spinning stools and counter.

“We wanted to blend the Isley’s look, the Kravitz Deli look and the art deco look together,” he says. “People notice some Valley history. And we wanted to be part of Valley history because that’s what Kravitz is about.”

Overall, the renovations create a more traditional diner look that was popular when Kravitz Deli first opened in 1939. Colors incorporate more black, purple and pink to create a tie to the past, Kravitz said.

“The new look gives us inspiration too. It gives you a mental charge,” he said. “It gives us a reason to rethink some of the things that we do.”

Approaching its 80th year in business, Kravitz Deli is no stranger to adapting to market changes. Fewer industrial jobs led to less-regimented times for lunch – the strongest part of the day at the deli – forcing staff to accommodate customers taking their lunch break from noon until as late as 1:30 p.m., he said.

With a smallerJewish population in the area – down to about 1,400 from 8,000 – Kravitz has accommodated cultural events of other nationalities, including Oktoberfest and St. Patrick’s Day. Such changes are necessary because the deli industry “is a tough industry these days,” as Jewish delis across the country have closed.

“There used to be 1,500 delis just in the boroughs of New York. Now, across the country, there are 150 delis,” he said.

Inspired Catering by Kravitz is the biggest growth area for the company, making up 25% of its overall business, he said. As the exclusive caterer of Fellows Riverside Gardens at Mill Creek MetroPark, Inspired is booked every Saturday night from March to October 2019, “but Fridays and Sundays are still there,” he said.

Bookings have steadily increased and are up by 50% since Patricia Rydarowicz came aboard as event coordinator nearly four years ago, he said. In addition to local venues, Rydarowicz will travel to cater events. She just landed a large graduation party in Steubenville for 2019, she said.

“When I first took over, Jack [Kravitz] was basically just doing temples and trays, a little bit here and there,” Rydarowicz says. “Now we’ve expanded. I do stuff at Tyler, at Stambaugh.”

And while Kravitz Deli no longer operates at the Poland branch of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, it still caters events there, she noted.

This year, June and September were the busiest months for Inspired Catering, with weddings, temple functions and high holidays. After September, the company saw more weekday events. December bookings are slow, she said, so the company is offering a 10% discount on events booked during that month.

Rydarowicz looks to increase bookings among nonprofit organizations, particularly with the renovations to the back room of Kravitz Deli, which can hold up to 48 people, she said. The dark greenish paint and burgundy-colored carpeting have been replaced with a lighter blue paint and blue-green carpeting, making it brighter and more welcoming, she said.

Other businesses investing in Liberty Township give Kravitz hope as well, he said, citing the K’nafa middle-eastern restaurant that opened next door as well as the forthcoming Checkers & Rally’s restaurant opening along Belmont Avenue near Trumbull Avenue. Other nearby investments include construction work at the Classic Optical Laboratories Inc. and renovations to the Walmart and Aldi stores.

“So we’re seeing some growth in Liberty, and that helps,” he said.

Pictured: (From left) Patricia Rydarowicz, events coordinator with Inspired Catering by Kravitz, Jack Kravitz, owner of Kravitz Delicatessen, and Donia Kravitz Foster, Jack’s sister, hold a “reuben-cutting” for renovations to the Belmont Avenue deli.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.