She may have stood barely 5 feet tall, but Rose Kravitz was able to do something that U.S. Steel and a slew of other industrial giants were not able to do—she sustained a successful business in Youngstown, Ohio. For 72 years, Kravitz ran the Kravitz Delicatessen, a Youngstown landmark that not only offered a corned beef that rivaled any in the country but also gave a sense of stability to a Rust Belt city that saw too many of its businesses, and residents, leave town. Kravitz died on August 25 of a heart condition. She was 95.
"There's not too many people here who don't know Mrs. Kravitz and the Kravitz Deli," says Tom Humphries, president of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber. "She's the kind of person that a lot of us look up to as our type of hero. She had a tremendous work ethic and a real commitment to the deli. The business went through some tough times, with the steel industry up and down, but she always seemed to manage it."
Kravitz made no secret of her formula for success. When asked by a local TV reporter what advice she could give to aspiring entrepreneurs, she said, "If you can't make it working 40 hours a week, work 60." A constant presence in the deli, Kravitz worked full time, seven days a week, until she was 85. At that point, at the insistence of her family, she cut her schedule down to six days a week. Even after macular degeneration forced her to enter an assisted-living facility, she could be found at the deli five days a week, greeting customers and smoothing over complaints, up until six weeks before her death.
"One of the conversations we had with the assisted-living facility was arranging to have her dropped off and picked up at work," says Jack Kravitz, Rose's son, who now runs the business. "That's not a typical conversation you have with an assisted-living facility. It took a little bit of work, but they were finally willing to do it. When they took everyone else to the doctor, they took her to work. She enjoyed watching over the business. She didn't know what to do with a day off."
Born in 1916 in what is now Croatia, Kravitz came to the United States with her family when she was 5. In 1939, at the age of 23, Kravitz and her husband, Herbert, opened their delicatessen on Youngstown's North Side. With little money, the pair set out to create, as she described it, "a Jewish deli that caters to the general public." Indeed, the business came to be embraced by the town's predominantly Catholic community, with the busiest time of the year being the days around St. Patrick's Day, when the deli serves up nearly 7,000 pounds of corned beef.
Nonetheless, when asked what made her deli special, Kravitz didn't mention food at all. "Everybody is a friend that comes in," she told an interviewer in 2010. "You could be white. You can be black. You could be Latino. It does not matter what temple, what church you belong to. You're always welcome."