Sneak Peek: Kaufman’s looks toward fall reopening
Bette Dworkin (left), of Chicago, and her mother, Judy Dworkin, of Glencoe, own the popular Kaufman's Bagel and Delicatessen, which is on track to open in early-fall. The Skokie fixture has been closed because of a fire. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
NAME: Kaufman’s Bagel & Delicatessen
ADDRESS: 4905 W. Dempster St.
OPENED: More than 50 years ago
OWNERS: The Dworkins, family-run for two generations on the deli side and four generations on the bakery side.
CLOSED: Since November due to kitchen fire.
REOPENING: Tentatively slated for week of Sept. 30.
Updated: October 1, 2012 6:20AM
SKOKIE — Bette and her mother, Judy Dworkin, have been receiving phone calls every day and they all pose the same “when” question.
When will the popular and iconic Kaufman’s Bagel & Delicatessen, more than half-a-century old in Skokie, open its doors again?
Even those traveling the west end of Dempster Street who try to peek at the construction progress come away with little insight. Since a November fire closed Kaufman’s down, the eatery has been fenced in, providing a less-than-ideal view from the street.
Some out-of-town callers tell the Dworkins they will be visiting the area but want to make sure Kaufman’s is open when they arrive; customers closer to home have been found near the construction site, trying to get a look at how the work is going.
The Dworkins graciously opened their temporary gated community to the Review for a sneak peek; they say they want to reopen the week of Sept. 30, or at least around then. But Bette Dworkin is a bit cautious on declaring a definitive date. The restaurant still has to pass inspections and hire more employees.
When the fire first occurred, she said, she announced the restaurant would open again in three weeks, but she admits she didn’t fully understand what was ahead — having never gone through this before.
“I had no idea,” she said. “It became a much bigger process than I ever thought it would be.”
Some of that process included negotiating with the village about improvements that would be made to the building. Though both the Dworkins and the village had great interest in keeping Kaufman’s in Skokie, the Dworkins were close to heading to Morton Grove and even had a place picked out.
But in the end, Bette said, both parties wanted Kaufman’s right where it is — right where it has always been.
Kaufman’s isn’t simply reopening in the fall but expanding its facility with a new design, and an airier and more modern delicatessen and bakery. The Dworkins estimate the cost of the project at more than $1.5 million, $150,000 of which is being paid for from three Skokie grants. Almost every aspect of the building is being upgraded.
The Dworkins now own the building rather than just leasing it like before.
Kaufman’s is adding 1,600 square feet. The front of the store, where the deli and bakery are still located, will occupy about 2,800 square feet. Judy Dworkin said she believes the room is at least a third larger than before, though it’s constructed differently.
The change will be more significant than just the added space. No longer separated, the deli and bakery will include a 20-foot sandwich bar so people can sit and eat. However, there will be no wait staff as people will still get their food from a counter.
And Kaufman’s will now have public bathrooms for the first time.
“How many more tables we put on the floor will depend on the displays and how much room they take up,” Bette Dworkin said.
Dworkin pointed to where each feature in that main room will go, a key point being that both the bakery and deli cases will be expanded.
“Every room in here is completely different,” Bette Dworkin said. “I like to say there is no more separation between church and state. The deli and the bakery are together now with a centralized checkout.”
But in the revamped rear kitchen of Kaufman’s, there remains separation if not between church and state then between warm and cold foods, which are prepared in different rooms.
The Dworkins say some older patrons may have to adjust a bit because Kaufman’s will not appear as they last saw it.
“Part of the thing that upset people when we closed is that this was their youth,” Bette Dworkin said. “This is part of their memories with their parents, their grandparents. So some who are expecting the same look will not get that.”
What they will get though is a beautifully designed eatery that is structured to be more customer-friendly. And the food will be every bit as good.
Kaufman’s will have a staff of 32 to 35 employees, slightly up from the 30 or so it had before. Some customers have wondered about parking since there are no longer spaces in front, but there will still be 29 spaces in the back and on the sides — similar to the 32 before.
What’s best is that this is still Kaufman’s — still the family-run business serving up familiar and tasty fare but in a building designed for the 21st century. It remains a Skokie fixture and a survivor — it already has bounced back from a salmonella scare in the ’80s and a workers’ strike in the ’90s.
The Dworkins are not only determined to survive this latest hurdle — a nasty kitchen fire — but to turn a chapter and enter a new era.
“We’re excited that we’re giving both our customers and our staff a great place,” Bette Dworkin said. “It was tried. It was kind of like an old movie star. We did a lot of face lifts to it but now we kind of went bionic.”