From the days of horse-drawn carriages and hand-cranked telephones, Inman Square in Cambridge, Mass., has been remaking itself.
But no matter how tangled the streets have become with cars and cyclists vying for space, or how many businesses come and go, a delicatessen founded in 1919 by an Eastern European immigrant remains; rooted in the heart of the square.
“We’re a fourth-generation business started by my great-grandmother Ma Edelstein,” says restauranteur Gary Mitchell. “She was a pioneer who grew her business from a little deli, with stools and a take-out counter, and understood the value of good food at a good value.”
In this week’s Recipe for Success @ Boxerbrand, Mitchell discusses Cambridge landmark S & S Deli, a restaurant adorned with large, black & white photos of horse-drawn carriages, and historic scenes of the constantly changing landscape just beyond its front door.
Q: What’s the secret to S & S’s success?
I think it’s a number of things. We’re a fourth-generation family business started by my great-grandmother, who was a true pioneer in every sense of the word. And my grandmother Charlotte Wheeler carried on that tradition. And my parents, myself and uncle have also dedicated our lives to this restaurant.
What we strive to do is offer a good value. People depend on us for a homey, home-away-from-home place to sit down and enjoy a wide variety of foods. Besides the traditional deli offerings, a diner can order breakfast, chicken or turkey dinners, hamburgers, seafood, pasta.
It’s not unusual to see a table of diners each having very different meals. One may have eggs, while others are having a chicken dinner or a stir fry.
Q: What makes your bagels so good?
They’re a water bagel and they have a nice tear to them. A lot of other bagels are par-baked, but ours are boiled. That’s what makes them so good.
Q: How do you maintain consistency?
I went to the Cornell School of Business and I bring management technology to the business. Good business principals, and the fact that we own the facility and carry no debt on the business allows us to give more food, at a higher quality, for a better value.
We’ve also changed with the times. This is Cambridge, which is a real melting pot, and we have a cross-section of customers. Some people know us for our breakfasts, others for our deli food, our reubens. And we have a clientele who relies on our catering and late-night service. We try to offer something for everyone.
Q: You’ve described S & S as more than a restaurant.
The restaurant’s name S & S is taken from the Yiddish term “Es and Es.” This is a very maternal expression, which means “eat and eat.” We’ve been in Inman Square for a long time, and this is our home. My mother Doris, who’s 90, still comes in to check on things. And for a lot of people, we’re a second home, a place to gather with friends like they would in their own dining room. — S & S Deli uses Boxerbrand menu covers in its table presentation. Thank you!