Schear throws down Jewish deli gauntlet with All The Best

Story and Photos By Marshall Weiss, The Dayton Jewish Observer

Unless you’re living under a culinary rock, you know that All The Best Deli opened its restaurant and deli service in late June, just north of the new UDF at Far Hills and Whipp in Washington Township.

In his favorite booth — next to the kitchen — owner Lee Schear’s parents and grandmother watch over him in a vintage photo. His family ties to the food business date to 1899, when his Lithuanian-born grandfather began selling food from a horse-drawn wagon on Dayton’s West Side. The Schear family ultimately expanded the business to become Liberal Markets, with 48 supermarkets at its peak.

Schear — who has built his reputation starting, growing, and selling off businesses such as Superpetz, Cashland, and 247Sports — dreamed of opening an “authentic New York deli” for much of his life.

He’s brought in what he considers the best deli meats (Sy Ginsberg’s in Detroit) and smoked fish (Acme in Brooklyn) to present Daytonians with what he claims is now “the best deli in Ohio.”

To those who cherish the tastes and memories of legendary Jewish delis in America’s biggest cities, Schear’s All The Best Delicatessen throws down the gauntlet. The name alone dares to challenge his customers. Each true fresser has a gold standard in mind of what constitutes an authentic Jewish deli.

Running the day-to-day operations at All The Best as general manager is restaurant/hospitality industry veteran Bob Posner.

All this, you may already know. Here, in an interview with Schear and All The Best’s food maven, Carin Solganik, The Observer shares what’s going on behind the deli counter and back in the kitchen.

We’ve all heard about how you’re bringing in deli from your favorite places. But what do you prepare here in your own kitchen?

Schear: We do a lot more than a typical deli. It’s all Carin’s food. This whole concept is Carin’s. I couldn’t do this until she retired. She was the head of prepared foods for Heinen’s (grocery store) in Cleveland, 25 upscale stores. She’s been with a lot of restaurants, done a lot of catering. And I knew her going back to high school. And I said, ‘When you retire, we’re going to do the deli.’ She put the whole thing together.

Solganik: I’ve been in the food business my entire life. I learned how to cook with my mother, cooking for the Jewish holidays: matzah balls and chopped liver and chicken soup. My grandparents owned a deli in Cleveland in the ‘30s. My dad made his own pickles. My family’s a food family.

I’ve always lived here, even when I was working at Cleveland. I had an apartment there, I went there all week, and then I would come home on Fridays. I did that for seven years. And then I retired, right after the beginning of Covid, primarily because my mom was 94 and I really couldn’t manage her life from a distance anymore.

I didn’t really like retirement. My real passion is concept development. We went to New York, Cleveland, Chicago, Houston, Las Vegas, and every place I went, I learned something different about how to operate a deli and something interesting about sourcing the products. We started about a year and a half ago.

A lot of what I do, and this is what I learned in my consulting life, I will take multiple recipes. Like when we did the chopped (chicken) liver, I made Lee taste three versions of chopped liver: one broiled liver, one poached liver, and one sautéed liver.

Schear: And we loved Zabar’s, which is the best we could find.

Solganik: And then I take their recipes and I adjust them to what we’re doing. We make our own chopped liver, we make our own creamed herring. Not only do we cut our own fries, we soak them overnight, par fry them, and then fry them to order.

We make the horseradish-mustard sauce that goes with the fries and also serve it with the Vienna Beef hot dogs and Gabila’s Coney Island Knishes. When we reprint the menu, I’m going to serve the horseradish-mustard sauce with the brisket.

We make our own potato pancakes. We make our own chicken soup. We make our own stock, and we make the soup from the stock. We cook the chicken in the soup again and then we use that chicken for our chicken soup and for our chicken salad the Jewish way: boiled chicken. We make split pea soup (vegetarian) from scratch, borscht from scratch. We make our own matzah balls from scratch with Matzah Project Matzah Meal.

Deli cases at All The Best Delicatessen in Washington Township.

Schear: The idea behind All The Best is to look at all the best places and steal all the good ideas from them. I fell in love with Second Avenue Deli, which I think is the best in the country. A lot of the motif, the gestalt of All The Best, is Second Avenue. Because I just think they do everything right. They have the best food.

What else do you prepare here?

Solganik: We make our own cole slaw, potato salad, macaroni salad, health salad, Israeli salad, and cucumber salad. We make our own egg salad and we sauté onions and mushrooms with schmaltz (rendered chicken fat), then we add it to the eggs. Chicken salad, tuna salad, all of our salads are made here. We don’t really make any desserts.

Schear: But they’re baked for us to our specifications. Like the cheesecake, which is a rip-off of New York cheesecake.

Solganik: We went through a lot of versions to get the cheesecake that we specifically wanted. It’s from Sweet Butter Bakery in Cincinnati. We also use Davis Bakery in Cleveland.

Are there any tweaks you’re working on?

Solganik: ‘Why don’t you have blintzes? Why don’t you have noodle kugel?’ My next thing is going to be the specials — noodle kugel, blintzes — to just do them as specials. And getting platters ready for the Jewish holidays. Rosh Hashanah and break-the-fast. We’re going to do party trays, especially for the holidays. And then we’re going to do catering for offices. And online ordering.

Schear: ‘Don’t you have half sandwiches?’ You have to order a half sandwich with something else now. I think we’re going to start going to half. It’s harder on us — sales go down — but people get what they want. Which is the essence of a good retail business. Give people what they want instead of fighting them.

Even though All The Best isn’t kosher, you sell kosher cheeses in your deli case. How come?

Solganik: I intentionally bought packaged kosher cheese because I believe there are a lot of people who keep kosher at home but still eat out. And I wanted to have things they can take home. And the one thing I knew I could find was a decent kosher cheese that we could keep wrapped and sell in the deli as packaged cheese and that you could buy and take it home and it would still be kosher for you.

And then the challah I have on Friday nights, we keep that packaged, so that is kosher also, however, she uses butter in her bakery (Sweet Butter Bakery), so it’s kosher dairy, not pareve.

How’s all going since you opened?

Schear: We’ve been mobbed. The first week we were open, we actually had to shut the doors and go out to people in the parking lot and say, ‘Don’t come in, the wait’s too long.’ We were in trouble because we could only park 60 cars. It’s been really double of what we expected. And we have 50 employees.

Solganik: There’s a lot of repeat business. Our Jewish clientele are the most repetitive, three and four times.

Schear: And the hardest customers.

To read the complete August 2023 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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