Hobby's Delicatessen Reopens in Newark As A Beloved City Landmark Returns

"If we didn't own the building, we would've been gone. Instead, we decided we had to completely rebuild and redesign our workspace to keep going," said Michael Brummer, pointing to a new steamer, dishwasher, digital ordering system, and kitchen expansion as major investments in the future. "Like our father Sam always said, sometimes you've got to figure another way out. But the kibitzing and the yelling out orders? That's all the same." 

Hobby's started their low-key, stress-test opening last Thursday, working their way back from a long absence carefully and calculatedly. The beloved corned beef, pastrami and turkey sandwiches are still at the top of a limited menu, with other favorites such as pea soup, potato pancakes, chopped liver, and oatmeal raisin cookies added in recent days. Takeout orders are currently the primary business driver, although those coming in for pickup can sit down if they wish. A return to full in-house, sit-down dining will come when the owners feel ready. 

"We don't know what to expect in terms of how many days people will be in the office. That's the biggest challenge," said Marc Brummer, a reference to the ongoing effects of the COVID pandemic. "We've got to figure out what people are going to want. Meanwhile, we need as many customers as we can. Newark is our focus. It's our home, and we rely on our home."

Judging from the line that spilled out into the street, people in Newark were happy to see Hobby's return. 

Attorney Casey Breslow was first in line on a recent weekday to get the food that has given her life in more ways than one. 

"When I was pregnant with both of my kids, I had both of my inducement meals here," Breslow said waiting for her corned beef and pastrami sandwich on rye with coleslaw and Russian dressing before heading back to court. "Businesses have to start getting people to come back in person. Without that, then the restaurants suffer. The workforce going into work changes that."

"Why am I here today? I'm hungry. I'm taking care of myself right now," said a Newark man who wished to be called Big Mo, taking a break before heading back to his construction crew. "I've been coming here since I was a little kid and I'm going to keep coming."

"I support everything they stand for as a small family business that serves the entire community," said Deborah Cornavaca, a longtime deli devotee from East Brunswick who avidly advocated for Hobby's return on social media. "If they give me a table in the back, I'll make it my office away from home." 

"I've only been here once before, when Patrik Elias retired from the Devils and my dad took us here before the game at the Prudential Center," said Patrick Grimm, a 22-year-old from Kearny. "It's important that places like this come back because we don't have that many authentic mom-and-pop, family-owned businesses left. The food is better here because the people care about what they're making." 

The Brummer brothers know that a big part of the Hobby's experience is when they schmooze with the customers. They are also aware that the catering business may not be what it was because of the pandemic. But there are signs that their unique personal touch is boosting their comeback, COVID be damned, witnessed by the orders rolling in during just one lunchtime rush. 

Two prominent law firms and a large downtown business lured their employees back to downtown Newark by offering them a Hobby's catering spread. A recent Rutgers Law School grad ordered another spread for her new baby's baptism party. A Down Neck sheet metal shop called in a lunch order for all of their workers. The owners are confident enough to give back by donating part of the profits from every Reuben sandwich they sell to a youth arts program sponsored by the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. They are also confident the hundreds of new housing units being built within a six-block radius of the deli will be filled with many new customers. 

The literal lifeblood of the Brummer family runs through the Branford Place block where Hobby's is located. One set of grandparents, a hostess and a head waiter, met in a long-gone Italian restaurant down the street. Their late parents, Sam and Rona, helped run the deli until both were gone after a long life together. The family sat shiva for Rona just last month. 

"It's been easier for us to deal with as we're getting back into the swing of things at the restaurant. My mother is still here. My father is still there." Michael Brummer said. "Their voices are in our heads and hearts. Their souls are in the walls. They're in our eyes when we look out across the deli at our customers."

At a time when people across all social strata are recovering from loss, one customer reminded the Brummer brothers of what is regained by Hobby's reopening. 

"Months ago, an older woman knocked on the doors and asked to go inside because she wanted to say goodbye. We told her we aren't going anywhere. This is what we do," Marc Brummer said. "When people are that thrilled that you're coming back, it's not just because of a corned beef sandwich. It goes beyond business. How much more can I ask from someone? There is no greater love."

Hobby's Deli is now open Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. 

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-08-05 02:24:11 -0700