Gerard Rudofsky loves working at Zaidy’s Deli & Bakery, which he formerly owned.
He is 81, but has little interest in retiring.
Besides, there are many longtime friends to greet as they pack the new Zaidy’s almost every day. The new owners asked Rudofsky to stay on, which he was happy to do. His duties include being a greeter and guiding patrons to tables, offering advice on running the place and supporting the busy catering business.
“I will work as long as I can,” Rudofsky said. “I have a commitment for three years. It keeps me going mentally and physically, and I love seeing the people and being engaged at this point.”
The pandemic has been rough on Denver-area restaurants. Though all the recent closures aren’t attributed to the pandemic, many favorites such as Fresh Fish Co., Racine’s, The Market in Larimer Square, Rialto Café, 20th Street Café, Avenue Grill, Denver Diner, El Chapultepec, Oceanaire and The Palm Steakhouse are no longer serving guests.
Then there’s Zaidy’s. The well-known Jewish deli was at 121 Adams St. in Cherry Creek North for 35 years when Rudofsky announced it would close in October 2020 and eventually reopen in a new site. It did so on Aug. 17 at 600 S. Holly St. in the Leetsdale Shopping Center in Denver’s Washington Virginia Vale neighborhood.
Rudofsky is a major resource, consulting with the staff about menus, recipes and “helping them with all the things that go into running a restaurant,” he said.
Catering remains a major part of the business.
“Catering is big and that’s what I’ve been helping them with,” Rudofsky said. “We’ve had a memorial service with 50 people, two bar mitzvahs here, box lunches for businesses, party platters, pastries and cakes. And that’s what I’ve been advising them on.”
Zaidy’s plans to add a market/bakery next to the restaurant, and its bagels and breads are fresh-made in-house.
“He’s the reason why we have that place,” said Beth Ginsburg, who now co-owns Zaidy’s along with Max Appel and Joel Appel. “It’s very special having (Rudofsky) work with us.”
Ginsburg is no stranger to the restaurant industry. She is the former owner of the Bagel Store, now Rosenberg’s Kosher, at nearby 942 S. Monaco Parkway.
“It was a business I was always interested in,” Ginsburg said of Zaidy’s. “It’s a good fit for my business portfolio. And I just didn’t want to see it go — it’s a community treasure.”
Rudofsky learned how to cook from his parents, a grandmother and from cooking classes.
“At our synagogue, the Hebrew Educational Alliance, they had a wonderful cookbook (from which) I still use a lot of the recipes,” he said, adding that it was a Jewish caterer who taught him how to make gefilte fish.
Rudofsky’s parents were Denver natives and he grew up on the city’s west side.
Rudofsky opened Zaidy’s in 1985, and it soon became a popular dining establishment.
“We get a lot of young people here,” Rudofsky said, “and their parents have moved here to be with their kids and grandkids.”
He remembers when people from Dallas would make sure to stop in at Zaidy’s during their summer trips to and from Estes Park.
“We’ve forged meaningful relationships with families — not only Jewish, but also non-Jewish families,” Rudofsky said. “That’s the most meaningful thing for me, that they feel this is their go-to place.”
Rudofsky added that the restaurant draws people from Colorado Springs, Vail and Fort Collins.
“It’s word-of-mouth,” he said. “It’s reputation, it’s the quality of what we’ve provided and the friendships we’ve forged over the years.”
Rudofsky’s favorite foods on the menu include chicken matzoh ball soup and stuffed cabbage.
“The things I grew up with,” he said. “And I love the smells of Jewish food.”
The word “zaidy” means “grandfather” in Yiddish.
“It evokes community. It evokes family,” Rudofsky said. Several of Zaidy’s employees, such as Noah Rodriquez, Sherry Black and Elizabeth Ford, have worked there for well over two decades. “This place will carry on for many years when I’m gone. It’s comfort food, it’s a place to communicate, it’s community.”
He added that it’s not just the Jewish community that enjoys Zaidy’s.
“We have as many non-Jewish patrons as we do have Jewish,” Rudofsky said.
Rudofsky is grateful for Zaidy’s new ownership team, saying that he feels he has been resurrected.
“They saw what the future can be. And there are so many places that have closed because there was no passion for the business,” Rudofsky said. “I have the passion and love the business, and that’s why I came back, to carry on the name. The product, being with people, means a lot to me.”
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