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Deli-cate situation in Bay Terrace

From Baldwin, L.I. to Boca Raton, FL, people craving New York-style kosher delicatessen have been flocking to Ben’s Deli. Recently however, Bayside latke-lovers learned that the Ben’s in Bay Terrace might be leaving.
It seems that Ben’s and Cord Meyer Development LLC, the owner of the Bay Terrace shopping center, were not on the same page in negotiating a new lease.
“I went to them a year-and-a-half before my lease expired to talk about a new one,” said Ronnie Dragoon, co-founder of the chain of seven delis in New York and Florida. “They said ‘we don’t do that’ and said we’d talk six months before (the expiration date).”
What happened next depends on who’s telling you.
According to Dragoon, the landlord came back with an offer that nearly doubled the yearly rent and charges, to well over $600,000 a year. “I’d lose money the first year,” he said. “I made a counter-offer and they never got back to me,” the deli-man continued.
“About a month ago somebody from Hebrew National called me and said, ‘How do you like what the landlord did to you?’” Dragoon recalled. “That’s how I found out they had rented to a new tenant - I felt like I got punched in the stomach.”
The future occupant of the location, on the main level of the complex, is Panera Bread, a Missouri-based public corporation with almost 1,200 stores in 40 states. They have 10 corporate or franchise locations in the city and on Long Island, with one that opened in Long Island City last October.
Cord Meyer remembers the negotiations differently, saying in a statement that they, “contacted Ben’s Deli well in advance of the lease expiration, and had begun talks on a renewal lease for the existing store premises.”
The statement continues, “There were many components that were involved; however, the major factor that led Cord Meyer to its decision had to do more with the length of time that Ben’s wanted for its lease renewal based on Ben’s concerns regarding a changing demographic in the surrounding community.”
Dragoon called the statement “not entirely accurate.” He admitted that rather than another 15-year lease, he asked for 10 years “with two five-year renewal options.” He said that he’s been negotiating similar terms when leases at his other locations come up for renewal.
“Deli isn’t a very high-markup business, so I want more flexibility,” he said, adding, “You can’t deny the demographics are changing - maybe for the better.”
Mary Hughes, a spokesperson for Cord Meyer recalled, “They wanted a short-term lease,” citing five years with options, rather than 10. “That was too much uncertainty for us.” She pointed out that Dragoon’s associate was their contact, though he was “definitely involved.”
Uncertainty barely describes how the employees at Ben’s are feeling.
Assistant Manager Helen Devine of Astoria is “one of the originals.” She said the customers and staff are “like an extended family.”
“Customers have parties here after a wedding or a bris. They order for holidays. At the end, when we don’t see their names on an order, we know something happened,” she recounted, her voice trailing off.
Store manager OscarMolina started as a bus-boy over 10 years ago. He put up a sign asking customers to go to bat for Ben’s. When they started calling his boss, the sign was changed, giving them Cord Meyer’s phone number.
Hughes and Dragoon agree that they are trying to work something out - a new location on the upper level by the movie theater. The rent would be comparable to what Ben’s pays now, but for 20 percent less space. Hurt feelings aside, both say the negotiations are “amicable.”

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