WICKER PARK — A family-owned Jewish deli is finally opening in Wicker Park this weekend after more than a year of delays.
Helfeld’s Deli, 1750 W. North Ave., will feature Jewish deli staples like pastrami and reuben sandwiches, matzo ball soup and homemade baked goods. About a dozen types of bagels will be sourced from New York Bagel & Bialy in Skokie.
The deli is holding a soft opening this weekend with a limited menu, focusing on bagel sandwiches and baked goods like rugelach, banana bread and blintzes. Challah from Tel Aviv Bakery in West Ridge will also be available.
The opening marks the end of a more-than-year-long journey for owners Mark and Sally Grutz and their daughter, Emily Helfeld.
The family had hoped to open the deli in spring 2021 at the North Avenue location, but they said they were delayed when their business license application was held up for months.
When the family finally heard back from the city last year, they were told additional work was needed to get their store up to code, they said. The space was previously home to a high-end sneaker store.
Finally, after completing necessary renovations, the deli received its license and passed its health inspection last week, clearing the way to open.
“It’s a load off our minds. We’ve been dealing with this for 16 months while still paying rent on an empty spot,” Mark Grutz said. “It was getting to us, but we put that all behind us and we’re ready to do a soft open.”
“It’s a weight off my chest,” Helfeld said.
The deli’s offerings will be somewhat limited at first as owners get their sea legs and iron out any “hiccups,” Grutz said.
Plus, the family will be down at least one employee for a while: Sally Grutz is undergoing a long-awaited kidney transplant Friday. Helfeld said they got the call from the hospital Friday morning after waiting for more than five years.
“I’m not sure how much I’m going to be able to be in the deli because I’m going to be her caretaker. And also she obviously won’t be working in the deli, at least in the beginning. So we just really need to allocate our resources carefully,” Helfeld said.
For Mark Grutz, Helfeld’s is the latest chapter in a lifetime of working in restaurants around the Chicago area. For years, he managed the Hollywood Grill just down the street at North and Ashland avenues, and he worked at Kaufman’s deli in Skokie.
But the deli’s origins go back decades earlier, to Grutz’s father, Jakub Grutz.
Jakub Grutz was originally Jakub Helfeld — but he changed his name while living in what was then Poland during the Nazi occupation.
Grutz said his father was imprisoned for several years at Janowska concentration camp before escaping and joining the Soviet Army.
After stops in Siberia and Poland, Jakub Grutz came to Chicago in the ’60s, eventually becoming a partial owner of Mort’s Deli on the North Side. That’s where Mark Grutz got his start in the restaurant business as a teenager.
“He dragged me in because he wouldn’t give me anymore money, says, ‘Hey, come in. I’ll you teach the business, and at least you’ll have that no matter what else you do,’” Grutz told Block Club in October.
Decades later, Mark Grutz is thinking about his father as he finally prepares to open his own deli, albeit quite a bit later than he had originally hoped.
“I wish so much he was here to see it. He taught me the business, showed me how to do pretty much everything, and I hope he’s watching,” Grutz said.
Throughout the delays, Helfeld said the family received an outpouring of support from friends and the community, including when they launched a GoFundMe last year.
“They came and used the resources they had from the industries they were in to get us connected to the right people and the right services. So community is critical,” she said.
Grutz said Helfeld’s will start off opening 8 a.m.-3 p.m., or whenever they run out of food. The deli will be carryout-only for now, but the owners hope to add seating inside and on the sidewalk.
“We call it eat it and beat it,” Grutz said, laughing.
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