“L’chayim, Beulah. To life!”
By Jacob Wheeler
The Benzie hamlet on the shores of Crystal Lake epitomizes the Hebrew blessing: “L’chayim, to life!” For in this town, it takes more than a blaze to wipe out a popular business.
Jonathan Clark’s L’Chayim Delicatessen suffered a devastating kitchen fire on August 29, 2015, that put Benzie County’s bagel consumption on hold until this spring. Employee Denise—who comes in at 3:30 a.m. on baking days—discovered the fire before it spread. No on was hurt, no other structure was damaged, and blessings were counted. But what a setback.
“It really sucked,” Clark says. “Being out of work for eight months was a terrible experience. I learned that I’m not ready for retirement.”
Still, he had nothing but good things to say about L’Chayim’s employees, the insurance adjusters, and the community, in particular. Within days of the accident, 500 locals threw an impromptu fundraiser for the deli at the old Central State Bank building, now a gallery owned by Karen Roberts and Mike Madden.
On top of that, Gretchen Boekeloo let the L’Chayim team use the kitchen at The Roadhouse Mexican Bar & Grille in Benzonia to prepare for a catering event that had been pre-scheduled for the same day as the fire.
“It was crazy cool,” Clark says. “Living in a small town, there’s nothing like it. But we’re glad to have the experience behind us.”
From the black-and-white checkerboard tiles on the floor to the works of local artists that hang on the red wall across from the wrap-around glass-front counter, not much has changed inside the deli. Starting from scratch after a fire means that Clark could have potentially changed a lot of things, things that maybe had bugged him for years.
“We thought about efficiency and what we could move here or there to make the space work better,” Clark explains. “But we decided that we actually really liked the way that everything was set up, and it couldn’t get much better than how we’d had it to begin with.”
L’Chayim’s Beulah location reopened on May 4, followed by the Frankfort spot on May 16. Clark says that everyone has told him, ‘We’re happy you’re back. We missed you!’
And sales are up 20 to 25 percent over this season in previous years—be that due to the hunger for bagels or the desire to continue supporting a friend in need.
This month, find the works of artist/realtor Julie Bowman Williams on The Wall at the Beulah L’Chayim. To read “Benzie ABCs: Art, Bagels, and Community,” a story that we ran last fall on the fire and the subsequent fundraiser, check out our website at http://bit.ly/1YbBdHl.
Photo caption: Jonathan Clark at the Beulah L’Chayim, where the wall is still red, the floors are still checkerboard, and the bagels are still tasty. Photo by Aubrey Ann Parker.