It has been 10 years since the Davis family of Homewood looked around and realized there were no New York-style delicatessens in the area. They decided to change that, and Bergstein’s NY Deli was born.
On Sept. 15, the family will celebrate its first decade in the deli business at 200 Dixie Highway in Chicago Heights. The shop is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays.
The Davises didn’t start out with a wealth of experience in the deli business. The idea came to them when Harris Davis was preparing to retire from a career in information technology. He is from New York and decided to start a deli like those he loved back east.
On the deli’s website, Davis states, “When I was growing up in Brooklyn, New York, in the mid 1960s it seemed like there was a deli on every block. You could get a great corned beef sandwich with a potato pancake and a bowl of matzo ball soup 24/7. It was one of the things that I missed most after moving to Chicago.”
The name of the new venture, Bergstein’s, came from his mother’s side of the family.
His son, Bill, also in IT, joined the project.
Bill said the family’s love of food in general, and delis in particular, turned out to be the main qualification they needed.
“It’s always been a family dream of opening a deli,” Bill said. “We sort of dove in without having much experience.”
He and a friend who helped start the business, Michael Mesirow, did get some on-the-job training in preparation for managing the new venture. They went to a deli in Chicago and asked to work there for several months in order to get a sense for how a deli operates.
Getting started was still a challenge, Bill said. He remembers working some 90-hour weeks in the early days.
“The learning curve was hard enough even with that (work experience),” he said. “Without that, we would have been lost.”
Bill said from the beginning the family’s focus has been on quality. Early on, he and Mesirow took a trip to New York to visit a family friend who is in the deli business.
“We sat with him and worked on our recipes,” he said.
The deli still has New York connections. Its fish is shipped in from Brooklyn.
The whole family has been part of the effort, including Bill’s sister, Rachel Davis, who brings to the mix formal training in the restaurant business, having gone to culinary school. Michael, Bill and Rachel are Homewood-Flossmoor High alumni.
In addition to their love of food and delis, the family attributes much of its success to loyal customers and staff. Alice Davis, Bill’s mother, said they often have family members and friends of staff join the team, and people either tend to stay for years or bequeath their jobs to someone they know.
The menu has changed some over the years. The shop began with the traditional Jewish deli in mind, but it has evolved over the years to fit the preferences of south suburban diners.
In addition to deli standards like corned beef and lox and bagels, the Davises have added wraps and salads, even Italian beef.
Alice said most of the fare is still kosher style but not strictly kosher. There have been other additions that are unusual for a Jewish deli, like the popular collard greens. That was an innovation dreamed up by Charles King, who has been an employee since the shop opened and is now a manager, according to Bill.
“He’s got a following,” Bill said. “People come in just for collard greens. We’ve got a lot of talented employees. We let them do specials, get them involved.”
Staff specials will feature in the anniversary celebration offerings, he said, with a rotating menu of staff favorites the week of Sept. 10.
On Sept. 15 there will be free samples all day as well as a prize wheel for customers to spin and win discounts, free food, catering, gift cards and T-shirts.