November 22, 2010

Stop in and see what they've done with the place

Mercadante's Cafe & Gersky's Catering

Coming from two very different backgrounds, Howie Gershman and Jim Mercadante have joined their expertise together to create a personal, one-stop experience for food service with their double business, Mercadante's Café & Gersky's Catering at 271 Route 6.

There, patrons will find a wide selection of deli items, sandwiches and prepared foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, to take home or eat in the comfort of their new seating area with free WiFi and television. For large events, Mercadante's & Gersky's also specializes in catering and brings over 20 years experience to weddings, office parties, bar/bat mitzvahs and any other event customers can dream up.

Their different personalities help the business run smoothly, so they can handle large numbers of orders at any given time.

"One of the things that makes us successful is our very distinct personalities," Gershman said. "I enjoy talking to people and focusing on sales and business, while Jim really prefers being in the kitchen, doing the job and creating our product."

Mercadante has worked in food service throughout his life. "I bartended for 13 years and a client asked me if I would help run a corporate service business," Mercadante said. He ran high-end office catering for years before deciding to move into public food service and opening the Tuscan Market in Yorktown Heights. In 2004, Mercadante purchased the deli's current location, which has easy access from Route 6 and attracts a variety of working customers for breakfast and lunch breaks. In addition to Mercadante's & Gersky's, Mercadante also runs the Planet Wings next door and Bella Latte in the Jefferson Valley Mall. The deli is by far the most difficult to run, with both an enormous inventory and a wide variety of competition, with 15 other delis within three miles.

"I like dealing with the food, and seeing my customers happy. I like everything about food service," he said. "It's very competitive, but I wish all the best to everyone. There's not a lazy deli owner out there. We're all working hard to serve the community, and everyone deserves to do well." He works so hard, in fact, that while he was being interviewed, a regular customer walked past and remarked, "Jim, I didn't recognize you sitting down."

Meanwhile, Gershman began his career in the corporate world, managing computer networks before founding Gersky's in 1987. Living in New Hampshire and knowing he wanted to try something different, he and his wife Ellen planned to open a bed and breakfast with his parents. Unfortunately, before their plans could be finalized, his father had a heart attack and passed away. While in Mahopac for the funeral, a friend approached Gershman about opening a small food court area in what is now the shopping plaza on Crompond Road in Yorktown Heights. Gershman agreed, and he used his father's life insurance money to start Gersky's. After 10 years at that location, they moved to Mahopac and began running catering for large scale events. Business did well, but after seven years, Gershman decided to make a second career change, this time to financial planning.

He attempted to sell Gersky's, but after meeting Mercadante, realized that a partnership would allow him to work at both careers simultaneously. Gershman describes the way he helps people with their finances as "a kinder, gentler version of financial planning." He says he brings to financial planning the same skills and caring he uses to create a wedding or other event.

By working together, Mercadante's & Gersky's has been able to expand business, handling both large and small events. A recent large event was the cutting ceremony for the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

Like any other large-scale event, Gershman handled the customer side of filling the Rockefeller Center event. He was surprised to have to handle the preliminaries of the event without any details. "I asked, 'What is this event?' and they said they couldn't tell me. So I asked where it was, and they said they couldn't tell me that, either." He worked around these issues, and was contracted to secrecy before the big day, where they served a breakfast of coffee, bagels, their homemade cider donuts and pastries to over 150 people on Bullet Hole Road.

"I ask those same questions to the people hosting any event. Whether it's a bride or the parents of a bar mitzvah, and I ask them two important questions: 'What do you want your guests to feel, see and react when they walk into your event?' and 'What do you want them to remember a year later?'" Gershman uses these considerations, as well as his skill for organization to create a detailed plan for the event. He then gives direction to Mercadante and the kitchen staff.

"After he's booked a party for us, it's easy. We prepare the food as the customer requested." Then grinning, Mercadante said, "Unless they change the order a thousand times before the day. Then we look at each other in the back and say, 'Oh, no.'"

Mercadante also creates the smaller meals that families can enjoy every day or for special occasions. For Thanksgiving, they have prepared oven-ready turkeys, which are seasoned and ready to be home cooked, along with sides like pumpkin soup, brie and Gran Marnier glazed walnuts in puff pastry, maple yams and garlic whipped potatoes.

In addition to their special holiday and party selections, the deli has daily specials, including their $5.99 pasta or salad toss for lunch, where patrons can customize their own hot pasta or cold salad dish, and a $29.99 dinner-for-four prepared meal.

Appealing to the wider community, the deli offers a 10 percent discount to senior citizens. They are also one of the only businesses in Mahopac to offer Kosher style catering.

"It's an important skill," Gershman said. "Knowing what is allowed and what isn't allowed. Kosher isn't black and white with the same rules everywhere. You have to work in the shades of gray and know what's appropriate, and we do."

The duo is entrenched in the Mahopac community, both as business owners and citizens.

"Working in Mahopac, you become a part of the community in a way that you don't if you're just commuting to the city every day. You start to deeply value your relationships," said Gershman, who credits the Mahopac schools with the careers of his two sons. Gershman is very active with Temple Beth Shalom in Mahopac, and is also a Boy Scout leader. In addition, he rides in an annual bicycle ride from Patterson, NY to Bennington, Vt., to raise money for the Westchester ARC and the Special Olympics. Mercadante's four children also attended Mahopac schools, and often help out at the deli.

"We do a lot of catering in the community," he said. "And we've worked on accounts for the William Koehler Memorial Senior Center and St. John's Catholic Church. It's a nice community to be in."

With a veteran staff and their business know-how, Mercadante's Café and Deli & Gersky's Catering has a special corner in a very competitive market. By learning different skills from each other and working on very different parts of the job, Mercadante and Gershman come together to create a wonderful product, and, according to Mercadante, "We really enjoy working with each other. We've developed a friendship over the years."

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