Week after week, month after month, Jerry Kaplan kept hearing the same thing.
“I was here almost every day for 11 months, and people were always pulling up to the door asking, ‘When you gonna open? When you gonna open? When you gonna open?’” the longtime owner of Short Hills Restaurant & Deli in Voorhees, N.J., said. “We thought we’d be closed about six months, and it went 11 months.”
Kaplan said business has boomed since it finally did re-open on June 9 after a fire in the vacant upstairs offices had kept it closed since July 12, 2016.
“I had to open up the store. It was my obligation. They’re really loyal customers here, saying they missed us and are happy to see us,” he said. “Most delis have loyal customers because there aren’t many of us left.”
The most recent to go was Jack’s Delicatessen in the Northeast, a Philadelphia institution for more than 50 years. But at the same time, a new one, Rosenfeld’s Jewish Delicatessen in Rehoboth Beach, Del., recently opened.
Still, the 78-year-old Kaplan, who started in the business as an 11-year-old helping out at the deli in Overbrook Park where he grew up, said it’s much tougher now.
“Jack’s closed because they didn’t have any business,” said Kaplan, who opened the place in 1997, then shut it down after a 2008 fire virtually burned it to the ground. “We’re jammed.
“Jack’s is in a failing neighborhood, and we’re in a bustling neighborhood. It’s not their fault the neighborhood changes.”
So how have things changed at Short Hills?
“You eat more turkey and white meat than you eat corned beef these days,” he said. “People still eat corned beef and pastrami, but not as much.
“We make everything to order here, so the footprint is the same. But the whole decor is different.”
In fact, Short Hills, whose name originated due to its proximity to the historical Short Hills Farmhouse, now has a pickle bar and even a small winery for the first time. The place has been modernized, with high-definition TVs situated prominently, among other touches.
“My daughter, Stacy Righter, decorated the store,” said Kaplan, who used to run the old Chuckwagon delis scattered throughout Philadelphia and the suburbs, as well as Ben & Irv’s in Huntingdon Valley. “We wanted to see it get opened in a big way.
“We had no fire in here. It was all smoke and water damage. It’s called ‘dirty water’ because it’s coming through the ceiling. By the time the investigation into the fire was done it had turned to mold, so they had to tear everything down.”
Thus began the long, arduous process of getting Short Hills back up and running. Kaplan estimates the damage to the entire property, including the deli, at somewhere above $2 million — not all of which was covered by insurance.
Various delays with inspections, permits and miscellaneous problems kept pushing back the re-opening.
Now that the deli finally has returned, customers are thrilled.
“Last year, we went to different restaurants,” said Myron Lubin, an Elkins Park transplant who’s been eating at Short Hills the past nine years. “But we always loved this place. The food is still wonderful. We know the waitresses. So it’s very comfortable. It’s like a landmark.”
“It’s one of a kind,” added Suzanne Weiss, one of Kaplan’s vendors. “There’s nothing around like it. Everybody kind of knows everybody here, and he’s got a lot of great Jewish delicacies, all made from scratch. People are excited to have it back.”
No one’s more excited than Kaplan, who’s working 11-hour days for now.
“It took a lot of work finding equipment and getting things organized,” he admitted. “The good part is 95 percent of my help came back, so I didn’t have to train a lot of people, but there was never much of a doubt we’d be back.”
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