In a few short months, Pawtucket, Rhode Island will be home to something truly unique for the region: an authentic Jewish deli.

Maven’s Delicatessen is the longtime dream of Jason Sugarman, and he’s put a lot of thought into how to get his 100-seat deli just right.

Sugarman is the owner of and partner in Asia Grille, an owner and franchisee in Pokéworks, and a franchisee in Johnny Rockets, so he brings a pedigree of successful restaurants to his latest venture.

“I thought it was time,” Sugarman said. “I have the right people in place, and it’s the right time for Rhode Island to have the best deli, and that’s what I want to do.”

Sugarman said the plan is for just about everything to be made in-house.

“It’s going to be quite an experience,” he said.

Maven's Delicatessen will be located at 727 East Avenue in Pawtucket, in the same plaza as Rasoi and Garden Grille.

Maven's via Facebook
Maven's via Facebook

The Birth of a Deli Dream

“It’s been a dream of mine for many years, ever since I went to the Rascal House in Florida, when I would visit my grandparents out there,” Sugarman said. “It was quite an experience to go there. It was such a packed place, the energy was so cool. It really stuck with me.”

Sugarman was born in Rhode Island, but his father’s work in the restaurant industry took him all over the country growing up.

“Everywhere I went, I demanded to go to a deli. It was always the thing that I did,” Sugarman said.

The Family Business

Sugarman said he “grew up under (his) dad’s desk,” listening to him and his partner Ronn Teitelbaum discuss the restaurant business.

Teitelbaum was the founder of the Johnny Rockets chain, and Lloyd Sugarman was the first partner involved in turning it into a franchise. The elder Sugarman later sold his portion of the franchise and went on to invest in the Sugar Factory chain and other ventures.

“From the age of four or five, they were teaching me about the business and teaching me how branding works,” the younger Sugarman said.

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Why the Name Maven’s Delicatessen?

“I worked hard on (the name), and there are a lot of levels to it,” Sugarman said. “It’s a word that is English but has its roots in Yiddish. It means skill, adept, good at something. My goal is to have the best people working at this restaurant.”

Sugarman said he was surprised to find that a lot of people didn’t know what the word “maven” meant.

“People think it’s someone’s name,” he said. “It’s just an easy thing to work with.”

What Will You Find at Maven’s Delicatessen?

Sugarman talked about the need to make the food at Maven’s accessible to everyone, not just Jewish people.

“It’s going to be everybody who loves deli,” he said. “Delis used to be a gathering place for all people, all these ethnic foods, they’re also ambassadors for the culture. If you want people to get into the culture and accept it, you have to make it palatable for everybody.”

With that in mind, he wants about 30 percent of the menu to be new concepts beyond traditional deli fare.

“I want you to go there and have the Jewish soul food, but also a new experience, too,” Sugarman said. “Every deli you go to in the country has a connection to the past, and the present and the future.”

Sugarman is working with executive chef and partner Jamie D’Oliveira to craft a menu that will combine the traditions of a Jewish deli with some new ideas as well.

“It’s going to be traditional, but we’re going to have new things on there,” he said. “For example, we want to have beet lox, which you don’t see everywhere. We’re going to have things like pastrami lox, too.”

Making everything in-house means Maven’s will also bake its own rye bread, because he said you can’t get traditional rye bread in Rhode Island.

You’ll also find Jewish deli favorites such as noodle kugel.

“We’re going to have to teach everyone in Rhode Island what noodle kugel is, and if you want it cold or hot,” Sugarman said of the noodle pudding dish.

He said he’s still debating on whether or not to serve tongue.

What Won’t You Find at Maven’s Delicatessen?

“None of this fusion stuff,” Sugarman said. “We’re not going to have brisket tacos.”

There also won’t be an abundance of in-your-face technology, either.

“There will be no digital menus,” Sugarman said. “Everyone has digital menus.”

He said Maven’s will instead use “train station signs that flip instead.”

“I want a feeling of urban and of non-digital. I don’t want any screens in there,” he said, although he noted Maven’s will have online ordering. “I want it to feel very old school and very fresh at the same time.”

Will Maven’s Be a Kosher Delicatessen?

Sugarman said there will be a reuben sandwich on the menu because, well, he loves them and he knows other people do, too.

However, the combination of meat and cheese in the sandwich means Maven’s will not be a true kosher deli, as kosher law prohibits the combining of meat and dairy.

Reading Is Fundamental at Maven’s Delicatessen

Sugarman said literacy will be a major initiative at Maven’s, and that every child who comes in to eat will be given a comic book, featuring heroes like “Superman, Batman, all the typical stuff,” he said.

He said it’s not just a matter of keeping kids busy while they’re in the restaurant; it was inspired by his own experiences as a child.

“I grew up with ADHD, ADD and dyslexia when I was a kid, and always had trouble when I was really young. Comic books are how I taught myself to read, versus learning in school,” he said.

He also said there will be physical newspapers in the deli for people to sit and read.

“We’re going to be pro-reading in our restaurant,” Sugarman said. “We want people to relax, we’re not going to be pushing them out the door. That’s not the experience I want to give them.”

A Sweet Finish Planned at Maven’s Delicatessen

Sugarman said he’s taking a tradition from a New York deli and adapting it for the Ocean State.

“The 2nd Avenue Deli, at the end of your meal, gives you a little glass with an egg cream in it,” he said. “We have a surprise that will be more palatable, because not everyone is used to an egg cream. We’ll have a tiny float at the end of your meal as a treat, as a sweetener. We’re going to do a little float that everyone will like.”

However, Sugarman said traditional egg creams will be on the menu for those who do like the syrup-milk-seltzer combo.

Maven's via Facebook
Maven's via Facebook

When Will Maven’s Delicatessen Officially Open?

Sugarman said they are currently revamping the space that will house the deli, and he’s hoping for an opening in late spring.

“I don’t want to jinx it, there are a lot of fluid things in this business,” he said. “Late May was our original date, so we’ll see about that.”

Deli fans can follow along with Maven’s on Instagram and Facebook for updates on its progress.

“We’re going to open when it’s right to open,” Sugarman said. “You can only make a first impression once.”

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