For a change, I’m not writing about a childhood memory of growing up in Youngstown, but one that I didn’t discover until adulthood, even though it has been around longer than I have. I first heard of Kravitz Deli when my dad mentioned meeting some of his buddies there for lunch every month. My dad used to make good Reuben sandwiches, and he enjoyed eating them as well.
Later on, I learned that Kravitz had a new location in the Poland Library. Occasionally, I combined trips to Youngstown with meet ups with team members I work with in Pittsburgh. Kravitz was always the perfect meeting break and ranked at the top of deli food for all of us.
This past weekend, we were back in Youngstown, and before an afternoon visit to the Butler, we stopped in at Kravitz Belmont Avenue location. In honor of my dad (and because Reubens are a kind of family obsession) I ordered a Reuben and potato salad. It tasted as good as it looked! Here is the picture I texted to my son who loves Reubens and was in Gatlinburg at the time:
Kravitz Deli is 80 years old this year, one of the few family restaurants in the Youngstown area to last that long. Rose and Herbert Kravitz started the Elm Street Delicatessen in 1939 at 1507 Elm Street. Eventually, they moved further north on Elm Street, next to Crandall Park, into a building with an apartment above, where the family lived.
By the late 1960’s, the Elm Street area population was changing. With the growth of Youngstown State, Elm Street was blocked off by the campus, hindering traffic from the downtown. Liberty Plaza at the time was a huge shopping magnet on the far north side, in Liberty Township, and so they closed at the Elm Street location and re-opened at 3135 Belmont Avenue, in Liberty Township in 1970 as Kravitz Deli, the restaurant we ate at last weekend.
Rose Kravitz and her son ran the restaurant until her death in 2011. When a local reporter asked her the secret of her success over the years, she boiled it down to this: “If you can’t make it working 40 hours a week, work 60.” Until she was 85, she worked seven days a week, until family convinced her to cut back to six. She kept working until six weeks of her death. Two years earlier, Metro Monthly filmed a video interview and feature on the restaurant featuring both Jack and Rose.
While certain aspects of Kravitz Deli, such as the floor and fixtures they inherited from Isaly’s when they moved in, they have continued to innovate to grow their business, even when the city and its Jewish population both declined. Interestingly enough, St. Patrick’s Day is the biggest business day, as hundreds of people come in for the Deli’s signature corned beef sandwiches. In recent years they have hosted events to celebrate Polish Fat Tuesday, Rose Kravitz birthday, and Easter and Mother’s Day Brunches. They’ve added a big screen TV in the back room for watch parties and opened up the main room to easily accommodate larger group events. The menu has expanded from Kosher Jewish offerings to Mediterranean and vegetarian items. Harking back to the old 20th Century restaurant down the street, they offer a spinning bowl salad.
They also tried to branch out into several related businesses that flourished for a time before closing. In the 1990’s, they started a wholesale bagel business that last for fifteen years. They also opened a store at the Poland Library that lasted for eight years and a brief effort at Canfield Library. In 2016, they opened the Garden Cafe at the Davis Center at Fellows Gardens, which we saw when we visited there. Right now this location along with the Belmont Avenue location and their Inspired Catering business are their main operations. They have ongoing catering relationships with Stambaugh Auditorium, the Tyler History Center, and the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County., among others.
It is an amazing accomplishment to sustain a family business for 80 years, even more in a changing community. I hope Kravitz Deli finds some great ways to celebrate, no doubt with corned beef, and that they enjoy many more years in the Valley