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Short Hills Deli in Cherry Hill closes after nearly 25 years

A pandemic-related loss of business from its core clientele and staffing issues spelled doom, said Jerry Kaplan, its owner and a deli man for seven decades.

Jerry Kaplan outside his Short Hills Deli in 2008, as it reopened after a fire.
Jerry Kaplan outside his Short Hills Deli in 2008, as it reopened after a fire.Read moreAPRIL SAUL / Inquirer Staff Photographer

It wasn’t owner Jerry Kaplan’s recent knee replacement or the fact that he is 82 years old that cinched the closing of Short Hills Deli, which has slung pastrami from its spot at the Short Hills Shopping Center on Evesham Road in Cherry Hill since 1997.

Kaplan said it was the pandemic.

“We never recovered,” he said Tuesday after posting an announcement on the deli-restaurant’s website and Facebook accounts that read: “The time has come to say goodbye to the deli. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for a wonderful 25 year run and allowing us to serve you and be a part of your happy occasions, sad occasions, and everything in between. It has truly been our honor.”

Classic Cake Co.’s location inside the deli will remain, he said.

Kaplan, who started working in delis at age 11 and had to join a union at age 13, said he was ready to ease into retirement in early 2020. He said he had found a buyer for the deli, a massive store with a 200-seat restaurant and a $14,000 monthly rent.

But, Kaplan said, “the guy backed out. And then we suffered through a year and a half.” He said his business catered to an “older but loyal crowd who don’t always want to come out now. I feel bad about this.”

Short Hills’ staff, which used to range between 30 and 40 workers, was down to 10 people at the end. He also said he had problems hiring workers. “I wish I could have stayed. We’re heading into our good season, but we didn’t have the help,” he said. “It was killing us.”

» READ MORE: Philly-area restaurant workers respond to the labor shortage.

Kaplan opened Short Hills Deli after a 25-year stint at Ben & Irv’s, a popular deli in Huntingdon Valley.

The restaurant was shuttered over the years by two fires. One, in early 2008, destroyed the interior and kept it closed for nine months. A second left it idle from July 2016 to June 2017.

The closing does not portend the death of the Jewish deli in Cherry Hill, said Brandon Parish, who runs his family’s Kibitz Room in a shopping center a mile away. He said that though the Kibitz Room has had to adapt to competition from diners and even Starbucks, “we have been able to keep up because of our help and quality of food.” The pandemic, he said, did not hurt them.

It also helps that the Kibitz Room’s dining room is only 50 seats. Also, at 28, Parish is full of brio and new ideas, such as corned beef “cheesesteaks” and a 6½-pound competition sandwich filled with corned beef, pastrami, turkey, roast beef, brisket, coleslaw, Russian dressing, and Swiss that must be consumed in under 55 minutes.