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It Ain’t All About the Cookin’

October 11, 2019

I’ve always liked the name of celebrity chef Paula Dean’s book. When I decided on the topic for this week’s column, it was the first thing that came to mind as the title. The business of eating does indeed go way beyond prepping, cooking, plating, serving and washing the dishes. Because munching is pretty much a universal pastime, the industry is full of business deals big, small and everything in between. 

A prime example of this happened just a few days ago right here in our little beach town when Rosenfeld’s Jewish Deli founder Warren Rosenfeld entered into an interesting agreement with Eric Sugrue of Big Fish Restaurant Group. We are often urged to “carpe diem,” i.e., “seize the day.” I think this arrangement is a good example of that - on both Warren’s and Eric’s parts. 

Lawyer-turned-deliman Warren Rosenfeld did some seizing of his own when he walked out of his high-profile Washington, D.C. law firm to open a deli at the beach. Fast-forward to April 2013 when Rosenfeld’s Jewish Deli opened its doors in a little house at 63rd Street and Coastal Highway in Ocean City, Md. In April of 2017, Delaware fressers finally got their chance to smile when Rosenfeld’s Rehoboth opened just south of the Wawa at routes 1 and 24. In the spirit of carpeing that elusive diem, in October 2018 Warren filled that year-long gap with his hot-off-the-presses Rosenfeld’s Jewish Deli in the Salisbury Regional Airport. That scaled-down version of his full-service restaurants dishes up quick bites to travelers and airport employees alike. 

There’s a big difference between a Jewish deli and a kosher deli. That point was served up (with a disapproving yet ecclesiastical frown) a few weeks ago at 2nd Ave Deli in New York City when I inquired as to the whereabouts of the swiss cheese on my corned beef sandwich. “Not kosher,” I was curtly informed. Kosher is the body of Jewish law dealing with what foods are permitted and how those foods must be prepared. Kosher is not a style of cooking, so there is no such thing as “kosher-style” food. In fact, any kind of food - Indian, Chinese, etc. - can be kosher if prepared in accordance with the prescribed guidelines. On the same note, traditional Jewish foods like knishes, bagels, corned beef, blintzes and matzoh ball soup can be non-kosher if not strictly in accordance with Jewish law. So 2nd Ave Deli is certainly kosher. No cheese for you! On the other hand, Katz’s Deli on the lower East Side, the now-sadly-closed Carnegie Deli in Midtown - and Rosenfeld’s Jewish Deli in Ocean City, Rehoboth Beach and Salisbury serve Jewish-style foods that are not bound by the kosher rituals and specifications. So bring on the cheese, pleeze. 

In the spirit of continued expansion, Warren has entered a development agreement with BFRG to open a number of Rosenfeld’s Jewish Deli locations. All of the new installations covered by that agreement will be out of the area. No strangers to restauranting themselves, BFRG will handle day-to-day management, hiring, firing and back room responsibilities (accounting, payroll, etc.) for all new locations. As the creator of the concept, Rosenfeld will be tasked with keeping the concept and menu intact, training new management, marketing, restaurant design and décor. Since his face is already printed on the mustard bottles, he will also remain the look and voice of the concept, with equal say in quality control and the choice of new locations. He still retains exclusive rights to build in Wicomico, Worcester and Sussex counties. 

The new Rosenfeld’s Expansion Partners, LLC will be the entity driving this ambitious project. Warren confided in me that the first location for the new partnership is planned for Wilmington in 2020 (so keep that to yourself). Well, OK; in for a dime, in for a dollar: Warren, Eric and the team are leaning toward Annapolis for 2021 and the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore areas thereafter. “I’m excited about this, and I very much think that Eric Sugrue is the right guy to do this with,” Warren tells me. “He [Eric] was looking for a concept he could take nationally and feels that this is the right one. We’ll work closely together to keep all the Rosenfeld’s Jewish Delis authentic and running smoothly.” 

Such is the Business of Eating. Restauranting is a difficult undertaking, and sometimes there is strength in numbers. And when the numbers include a tried and proven concept paired with Eric Sugrue and the Big Fish Restaurant Group, success can be much more close at hand.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at byesbek@capegazette.com.

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