Jo-Els Honored To Be Only Florida Stop On Biker’s Great American Deli Schlep (Jewish Press of Tampa Bay)
This article was originally posted in Jewish Press of Tampa Bay.
Folks in the Tampa Bay area are used to going a little out of their way to get to Jo-El’s Delicatessen and Marketplace in St. Petersburg, but for Steve Goode, it was a 4,000-mile trek to satisfy his hunger for bagels and lox – as well as conversation.
Goode, who grew up in Chicago, stopped by Jo-El’s on Friday, June 25 as part of his Great American Deli Schlep – a one-man, 75-day, 16,000 mile motorcycle trip around America that will take him to 42 Jewish delis.
He is making the long-distance ride to raise awareness about the nation’s problem with hunger and food insecurity, and to raise funds for Mazon, a Jewish organization waging war on hunger.
The schlep began June 1 at Manny’s Deli in Chicago (a deli he has enjoyed since childhood) and will end Aug. 14 at Jake’s Delicatessen in Milwaukee.
Jo-El’s, tucked in among other small businesses and residences off 22nd Avenue North, is the only delicatessen in Florida that made the list of delis Goode is visiting and is one Goode personally chose for the tour. Being family-owned and kosher were two big factors that Goode said made it “a perfect choice.”
In his blog entry about his visit to Jo-El’s, he writes, “After eating too much meat these past few days, I decided to go with the toasted onion bagel/lox platter and a serving of herring in crème sauce. It was a perfect meal.” He also commented on the heat and humidity, extremely high prices of hotel rooms along the coast, his dismay in navigating U.S. 19 into the Bay area and his surprise at finding farms and cattle ranches on his ride north after his visit. Each time he would put on rain gear the sun would come out, and when he changed to cooler clothing, in a few minutes the rain would start again, he said of motorcycling through Florida.
The planning for the deli schlep was much more complex than other cross-country adventures, he said, and originally was planned for 2020, but delayed due to the pandemic.
By the time Goode arrived at Jo- El’s on his 2018 Honda Goldwing Tour bike, he had logged 4,000 miles on the schlep and raised about $10,000 for Mazon. The retired real estate developer rolled up and immediately engaged in conversation with owners Joel and Ellen Goetz and their daughter Sharon Goetz, who runs catering operations.
Goode praised not only the food he ate, but also the service provided by Jo-El’s staff.
As he ate, Goode enjoyed swapping stories about the Jewish deli business and about people he has met along the way. He also spoke of the need to address the issue of hunger in America.
He said the Jewish delis on his schlep “offer great food you just don’t get everywhere” and lamented that COVID-19 has taken a toll on small businesses, including Jewish delis. He hopes his tour draws attention of what Jewish delis have to offer.
“We are very thrilled and excited we were chosen,” to be part of the Great American Deli Schlep, Ellen Goetz said.
Joel Goetz noted that when they first opened the combination kosher market and deli, “people said we would never make it.” But now, even though it is tucked away on a quiet side street that doesn’t get much traffic, Jo-Els has become a Jewish community institution – a business that people seek out.
When Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg was asked what deli in Florida comes closest to his favorite in New York City, the answer was Jo-El’s. When the late Elie Wiesel – Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner – used to come to town every year to teach classes at Eckerd College, he was a frequent customer and became friends with Joel and Ellen.
When Goode said that Jewish delicatessens are dwindling across the nation, Joel agreed, saying he feels it is due to generational shifts in dining habits. He said the younger folks just do not seem to know what a true Jewish delicatessen is, or appreciate its kosher offerings, like older Jews do, and are content with fast-food offerings or a quick sandwich from a place calling itself a deli. “But it is nothing like a real delicatessen. That is why we have delicatessen and not deli in our name,” Joel said.
Goode said one of the great things about his travels is the people he is meeting along the way and the connections he is making. “If you just scratch the surface, people will let you get to know them,” he said.
Noticing a Star of David tattoo on the arm of a man Goode met in a New England deli led to the discovery that they both had read “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Moore and loved the book. Others would tell him of how their families have for generations been fans of a particular Jewish deli, and still others shared their love of biking. While at Jo-Els, a guy who stopped by for lunch saw Goode’s Great American Deli Schlep t-shirt. While waiting for his food, he searched the internet and discovered what Goode was doing. Before leaving, he walked up to Goode, told him he was a fellow biker and gave him a thumbs-up. “I love what you’re doing. Keep up the work, man.”
The deli schlep is not without its dangers. Goode shared this harrowing story during his stop at Jo-Els:
“I was on the New Jersey Turnpike when a tire came loose from a vehicle and is rolling down the highway at about 50-60 mph in the same direction I am going. I watched it roll off the edge of the road and make a splash into some water and I thought that was it – the tire would just wind up there,” he said. But the water just turned the tire and sent it careening back onto the road into Goode’s path. “I cannot recall if I braked or accelerated, but I thought I steered clear of it, even though I knew it came close,” he said. About a mile down the road Goode pulled over to check his cycle for possible damage. That’s when he discovered black tire scuffs on the white plastic storage bin over the rear tire of his bike and realized the tire did hit his Goldwing. “If it had been a direct hit, I wouldn’t be here now,” he said.
In addition to Goode’s blog, the Mazon home page points out the stark numbers of the cause Goode is supporting with his ride: before COVID-19, there were 40 million Americans struggling with food insecurity, and now there are 80 million. The problem, the website says, is not a shortage of food in America, “but because we lack the political will to end the problem by ensuring that vulnerable people have equal access to nutritious food.”