The Greatest Entrepreneur I Ever Knew...
….was my dad (who lived to age 90 and would have been 93 today). He came upon entrepreneurship accidentally when he married my mother in 1954. At the time, he was at loose ends. He had worked for Sears Roebuck, the Miami Herald and some other places without establishing roots. My mom’s father had a deli in Manhattan, so with nothing better to do my dad started working there. His love of food kicked in and pretty soon he was running the store. It was called Service Delicatessen, located at 1032 Lexington Ave. between 73rd and 74th streets. If you're of a certain age and lived on the upper East Side in the 1960s and 1970s, you'll remember the place.
Dad transitioned the business many times, first from an average deli to a gourmet store (changing the name to Service Delicacies) to a full-service catering company (Service Catering Co.), then finally transformed it into a party equipment rental company (Service Party Rental Co.). My brother eventually took over the business and built it up for 20+ more years, then sold it to the largest firm in the industry.
Back to my dad and one of my favorite entrepreneur stories. I was about 12 and went to the store with him every Saturday to work behind the counter, decorate sandwich trays, wash dishes, slice hard-boiled eggs, deliver orders and do whatever else he asked me to do.
I was watching one of the counter men making sandwiches for an order. He waved my father over and said, “Look Jerry, I used up all the bread from yesterday!” He was very proud of himself. My dad glared at him silently for a moment, then took his forearm and ran it the length of the 10-foot butcher-block counter, sending about two dozen sandwiches to the floor.
“If you ever do that again, you’re fired” was all my dad said, and he walked away.
I learned that a business's success can disappear if the owner takes his eye off the ball. In dad’s case, the ball was a loaf of day-old pumpernickel.