Kravitz Marks 100th Birthday of Founder

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – When Rose Kravitz opened her deli in 1939, she had more courage than money. In fact she and husband, Herbert, had to borrow money to make change for the first day of business at what was then called the Elm Street Delicatessen.

She may have stood barely 5 feet tall, but Rose Kravitz was able to do something that US Steel and a slew of other industrial giants were not able to do – sustain a successful business in Youngstown that continues today.

The example of dedication and leadership she set will be recognized this month as Kravitz Delicatessen celebrates with Rose Kravitz’s 100th Birthday & Jewish Food Fest. The event begins today and runs through Friday at the deli’s Belmont Avenue location in Liberty Township and inside the Poland Library.

“My mom taught us everything about this business — it wasn’t just her baby, but her first baby. We wouldn’t be here without her,” said Jack Kravitz, president of Kravitz Delicatessen and Rose’s youngest child. “We thought it would be appropriate to mark what would have been this milestone birthday by bringing back some of her favorite Eastern European recipes and featuring her favorite items.”

Some of these items include such Old World favorites as stuffed cabbage, knishes, blintzes, sweet noodle kugel, brisket, as well the unique and warming chicken mish mosh soup. More familiar favorites, like corned beef and kipfels, will be on special.

Born in 1916, Rose Kravitz wasn’t thinking about her pioneering role as a Mahoning Valley female entrepreneur. She was much more practical than that. The young woman just knew she needed to make a living while balancing the care of her often ill husband while still someday being able to raise a family.

The young couple’s necessary thriftiness didn’t stop that first day. They  walked to work every day to save the money from bus fare and got through the month by bartering work-for-food from local businesses and craftsmen.

She also took the expertise gained from working at the gourmet food department at McKelvey’s Department Store and applied it to the deli business. To the woman entrepreneur, it wasn’t about opening a business; it was about creating a lifestyle, even if that meant working from early morning until midnight.

“If you can’t make it in business working 40 hours a week, work 60,” was one of the ethics she shared for how to succeed in business.

The Elm Street Deli became a meeting place for the neighborhood, which was rich with the many different cultures that make the Mahoning Valley a melting pot of traditional foods and people. Catholics and Jews, black and white, men and women – all people were welcome and all were considered family.

When asked what made her deli special, Kravitz didn’t mention food at all. “Everybody is a friend that comes in,” she told an interviewer in 2010. “You could be white. You can be black. You could be Latino. It does not matter what temple, what church you belong to. You’re always welcome.”

As time passed and neighborhoods and traffic patterns changed, Rose and Herb made the decision to move the deli to Belmont Avenue in Liberty in 1970. Youngstown State University had cut the way from Elm Street to downtown, and Belmont Avenue had become the commerce center of the Northside. Kravitz Delicatessen took over the Isaly’s Dairy location, remodeled it, and new era of the business began and remains at this location.

“There’s not too many people here who didn’t know Mrs. Kravitz,” Tom Humphries, president of the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber told Inc. Magazine on the occasion of Rose’s death. “She had a tremendous work ethic and a real commitment…. The business went through some tough times, with the steel industry up and down, but she always seemed to manage it.”

For 72 years, she ran the Kravitz Delicatessen, a Youngstown landmark that not only offered a corned beef that rivaled any in the country but also gave a sense of stability to a Rust Belt city that saw too many of its businesses and residents leave town. It wasn’t always easy.

During the 1950s, a rumor circulated through the Jewish community that Kravitz Deli wasn’t doing well. When the couple heard this, Herb, with an innate sense of marketing, went out and bought a large new Pontiac and parked it right in front of the deli. Anytime someone would mention this to them, the response was always, “If business was so bad, would we have bought this fancy new car?” Soon the rumors stopped.

A special bonus for this week’s event will be the limited-time release of Rose’s Original Bagel. In 1950, Rose wanted to bring this classic deli favorite to Youngstown. After being turned down by other bakeries to supply the bagels commercially, Rose’s contemporary, Dora Schwebel, taught her how to make them herself.

Rose bought out a bakery’s equipment for $500 and moved it into her deli. Thus, the original Kravitz Bagel was born – a sweet, boiled egg bagel that people could not get enough of. As tastes and nutritional requirements changed, the egg bagel recipe was changed to a more traditional bagel made without egg.

“This hand boiled bagel, made with a liberal dose of egg and oil, surely didn’t fit a low-fat profile,” Jack Kravitz says. “But, hey, they are really tasty, so for Mom’s birthday, we’re bringing it back!”

Taking their mother’s entrepreneurial leadership example one step further, Jack Kravitz and his siblings have collaborated to create a scholarship in her name. Working in collaboration with the Community Foundation and the YBI Female Entrepreneurship Project, The Rose Kravitz Memorial Scholarship will be used to help other young women acquire the training it takes to make their business a success.

It is hoped that this influence will be felt in the community the way it is within her family, Jack Kravitz says.

Hannah Kravtiz, Rose’ granddaughter, smiles as she remembering how being babysat by Grandma meant an adventure in imaginary world travel. “She bought me a globe that I still have. I had to give up my dream of growing up to be a Dalmatian, but I’ve been to four continents so far,” she recalled.

Living now in Seattle, the data analyst at the University of Washington notices how her recognition influenced her upbringing difference in other surprising ways, too.

“Grandma was such a fixture in the community that mentioning her name was usually enough to get out of a speeding ticket,” she saids. “It’s been weird to move somewhere that I’m not a minor celebrity because of my last name.”

On a serious note, Hannah uses her grandmother’s attention to detail in her work every day. When the stack of work gets high, she remembers helping out at the busy deli. “Grandma would make me slow down and heat up the kipfels before serving because ‘they’re better that way.’ She always put in the extra effort for her customers and, as a result, so do I,” she said.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.