A 6-foot circle of oak was cut from the stage of the Ryman Auditorium and placed center stage of the new performing arts center of country music to serve as a constant reminder of the traditions and memories that had been established at its former location.
That’s sort of the same story with the new Jenkins Restaurant and Deli, which in its own way has become an icon of Cleveland.
Every corner, wall and table has a memory to share and a story to tell.
According to owner Kay Jenkins Cowen, it really is sort of a family scrapbook with food.
“There have been so many of our customers who have stayed loyal to us over the years,” she said. “These people really are like family to us.”
Because the “family” has continued to grow so large, there was a need to get a bigger house.
After a 38-year run, Jenkins Deli has moved up to bigger and better quarters at 2390 Spring Creek Blvd., off APD 40.
The building might be new but the atmosphere, service and food are based on old traditions.
It is that consistency that have kept people coming back for more.
“I have to credit my employees,” Cowen said. “Most of them have been with us for a very long time. They have been very loyal and it is like a family. We do have a lot of new servers coming in, but there are a lot who have been with us for 30 years.”
She said because of the loyal employee service, the customers who come never meet a stranger, and the employees are the same.
“We get to know each other and talk and share stories,” she said.
Kay’s husband, Don, said the new place was in some ways designed by their customers.
“Our customers have been offering suggestions to make things better, and we have tried to incorporate all of them into this new building,” Don Cowen said.
“There is more seating, more parking and an expanded bar,” he said. “We can also provide a private meeting room for groups.”
Kay is particularly proud of the large salad bar. She said that was one of the main things she wanted to have when the new location went into development.
The home atmosphere is amplified by antique Tiffany light fixtures hanging over the dining room.
A new patio serves as Jenkins’ new “front porch,” where customers can dine outdoors.
One could visit Jenkins several times and still never see all the items that are as much a buffet to the eyes as the menu is to an appetite.
“I’m a collector,” Kay said. “We just took this stuff and started putting it up.”
The restaurant’s first bill and customer from all those years ago are now immortalized and placed under the new bar’s clear top, along with photographs and notes of many of the staff and family members’ earlier days in sports and other activities.
There is also a fireplace over which a picture hangs that has personal value to Kay, and has a connection with the scale-model trains that run around the perimeter of the restaurant.
“My son-in-law works with Union Pacific in Omaha, (Neb.), and he helped with the train collection, Kay said. “My grandfather was the very first train engineer at the Little River Lumber Company in Townsend. That’s his picture over the fireplace.”
Kay says there are a lot of memories from being in the business for almost three decades.
“There’s so many stories,” she said. “We’ve had all kinds of people here.”
The new place is also adorned with 15, 36-by-48-inch panels which feature literally hundreds of historic images from around the area.
There are so many images represented that a flier with a description of each panel is provided to customers for the ease of taking a tour on their own.
There is much to say about the history and new building of Jenkins Deli. But, patrons agree it is the food that has brought them back time and time again.
The staff still serves all the favorites they always have before, and Kay is quick to add they “still have our chicken salad.”
While the deli has made it’s name on good food, at its foundation it is really all about that family atmosphere.
To quote a famous TV theme song, it is a place to go “where everybody knows your name.”
“This has all been made possible with, and I could not have done it, without my staff,” Kay said. “They are just incredible with both their work and friendship. And then, there’s our customers. We have the best customers of any place. They are so loyal. I think they’re going to like it here. I can’t wait to see them all here.”