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The Future of Jeff’s Gourmet

The menu may be limited for now, but the quality of the food and the spirit behind it is never in short supply.

In the old days, before coronavirus struck, even if you were a stranger to the Pico-Robertson neighborhood you easily could identify Jeff’s Gourmet Sausage Factory. There always seemed to be a crowd, both inside and outside, even as late as 11 p.m.

When the pandemic struck 16 months ago, however, owner Jeff Rohatiner asked his inner circle—his wife Linda and his manager Elan Adivi—whether it was worthwhile staying in business.

The answer was complicated, sun mixed with clouds of uncertainty.

“The pandemic transformed so much,” said Rohatiner, who opened Jeff’s Gourmet Sausage Factory in 1999. “Lots of issues had to be looked at in a different way,”

“When we closed for five weeks in April and May last year, I was not sure if we were going to reopen.”

Shutting down seemed the lone option. “It was impossible to operate under the circumstances,” he said, “impossible to have faith. Everybody was so unclear about safety. We have been through so much that I almost can’t remember some details. I just knew we had to close.”

Rohatiner said that “we considered not reopening because of health concerns for our employees. You don’t want to lose employees dedicated to you, and you also don’t want to lose your own health.”

Rohatiner is a father of three, and his family had concerns about his health as well. He is asthmatic. “They worried, but I told them not to worry,” he said.

“This pandemic experience is a roller-coaster. Reopening was a roller-coaster. The whole thing was a roller coaster. And it continues.”

While the business was dark, Linda Rohatiner asked her husband, “Is this really worth it?”

It was a serious question, but both of them knew it was his life’s work. His passion is cooking and creating foods.

The pandemic shrank the menu.

“We used to make 40 meat products, now it’s seven,” said Rohatiner, for many years the main face of the Happy Minyan shul, currently looking for a home base. “I made a lot of product—15 different sausages, eight different deli meats, sticks, salamis.”

He is especially proud that “we make every sauce, every topping, every meat. We buy the bread, but almost everything, we make here.”

Rohatiner and manager Elan Adivi agreed a new business model was required. “We had to cut a lot from the menu and from production, move into a more ready takeout-and-delivery function.”

This demanded massive reorganization. The dining room of the 1600-foot layout vanished. The menu changed sharply, down 50 percent.

This demanded massive reorganization. The dining room of the 1600-foot layout vanished. The menu changed sharply, down 50 percent.

“I had to simplify,” said Rohatiner, “stop making so many products, stop putting so much on the menu. We needed to keep a good, fast flow going from the kitchen out to the customer (whether by delivery or takeout). We basically pulled a lot of stuff we were doing behind the line out into the dining room. We had to have fewer staff per shift, too,” although most of his 23 employees have been retained.

Jeff’s Gourmet’s current (but not necessarily permanent) hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday through Thursday. While there was a measure of indoor dining earlier in the pandemic, now on-site meals are limited to four tables outside.

Easy-going Rohatiner grins as he reflects on what was, what is and what may be. “We have a lot of ‘used-tos’,” he said. “We used to be open Saturday nights after Shabbos. We may go back to it.”

Because of the pandemic adjustments that eliminated the dining room, a potential return to indoor dining is months away, requiring significant construction.

While Rohatiner concedes that he is “seeing some light,” he quickly adds, “even now I don’t feel [the pandemic] is over. I am worried about the next shoe that’s going to drop. All the variants, the booster shots. Seems promising. But I feel more is to come, maybe because I am skittish.”

Regardless of what the future holds, Jeff’s Gourmet remains a staple of the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. The menu may be limited for now, but the quality of the food and the spirit behind it is never in short supply.

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