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Home To Cook

Local Celeb Chef And Serial Entrepreneur To Open Unique Eatery In Newtown

Celebrity Chef Nick Liberato is making strong foodie moves in Bucks County. After spending 22 years on the Los Angeles restaurant scene, learning his craft and driving change as well as success at every stop, Nick has come home. Born in Doylestown and raised in Yardley, Nick -- and his business partner, established entrepreneurial professional and New Hope resident Mike Dalewitz -- are opening a dining venture in Newtown, aptly “sandwiched” in-between Nick's former stomping grounds.

Upon returning to Bucks, now Newtown resident Nick says he had the desire to replicate what he'd done out West, which is to fire up a full-service restaurant within the area. “California fare and New American cuisine” was the planned local menu, Nick says, while exploring additional themes. The pandemic caused a shift in thinking, which led to ideating around a concept that would be more a “pandemic-proof” concept, as Nick put it, where they'd be able to serve customers through a pick-up window, as well as traditional, in-restaurant pickup and dining in.

"I also had the desire to bring something new and fresh to the suburbs," Nick adds. 

That something new will be smack dab in the middle of the Newtown dining scene, at 2124 S. Eagle Road, the former location of Cross Culture - Fine Indian Cuisine Restaurant & Catering. Look for The Borscht Belt Delicatessen to open this fall. 

Nick already may seem familiar, because in addition to being a chef, he also appeared on several food-related television programs, including Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters,” “Bar Rescue” and more recently a project he brought to Netflix in 2020 titled “Restaurants on the Edge,” for which Nick used his expertise in fixing, growing and saving dining halls from potential failure. One case he says he's particularly proud of is the “Venice Whaler,” which was predominantly known for cocktails and awesome ocean views until Nick got a hold of it. He refers to it as the “first real-life bar rescue,” as he turned it into a dominating success story, growing food sales exponentially and making it a must-stop, food-first establishment.

The birth of the “Borscht Belt Delicatessen” concept seemed to be destiny as Nick met his future business partner, Mike, through the rabbi at their mutual children's school. The rabbi knew both men were looking to start a restaurant, old hat for Nick and brand-new for Mike, and brokered the connection. Mike says they hit it off right away, and started kicking around ideas of fresh dining experiences.

When Mike had the idea of selling bagels, and using that as the base, he recalls that the two dug in their heels until the right light bulb came on. Mike, being a native New Yorker, and Nick, a frequent New York city visitor in his youth with his parents, both realized they loved the old-school Jewish deli and wanted to bring it home. Authenticity behind the concept stems from Mike's great-grandfather Louis Willinger owning a famed corner luncheon in Brooklyn. "It was one of the first establishments to make famous U-BET Egg Creams, and I've been 'boot camp trained' so I passed on to the team the perfect recipe," adds Mike.  

Mike's mother's family, the Willingers, co-owned and managed with the Freeds, The Famous Red Apple Rest, which Mike says was the gateway to the Catskills/Borscht Belt. The Willingers also owned and managed the Irvington Hotel in South Fallsburg, New York (the Borscht Belt). Additionally, Mike's father's family, the Elmonts/Elmowitz, managed the Famous Pines Hotel in South Fallsburg. 

Mike's wife's family, Chick Kaiser, managed the famous Concord Hotel in Kiamesha Lake, New York (also Borscht Belt) and long-time family friends, the Slutskys, owned and managed The Nevele and The Fallsview in Ellenville, New York. 

"My childhood was spent vacationing in the Borscht Belt and attending summer camp in Sullivan County, New York," summarizes Mike who's also involved with a group forming The Borscht Belt Museum.

Even more ideas started to formulate by “going on a New York deli tour,” says Nick, as this helped shape what he calls a “hybrid concept of all the things we loved about the Jewish delis." 

The two also retained an "old-school" NYC delicatessen/appetizing consultant, and Mike says Nick spent countless hours training with authentic recipes, methods and skills, while putting his own “celeb chef” spin on some to create new, amazing dishes.

"We settled on the first location being in Stockton," says Mike, citing the historic quaint area north of New Hope on the New Jersey side of the Delaware, a town that Nick refers to as a “Norman Rockwell painting.” Next was coming up with the name. Mike recalls asking Nick if he was familiar with the “The Borscht Belt,” which was an unofficial name of the area of the Catskill Mountains that was famous for Jewish resorts for decades at the early part of the previous century. The more they talked about the history of the belt, the name started to stick. Soon after “The Borscht Belt Delicatessen” was born, a Jewish deli paying homage to the resort towns.

The Stockton location opened in 2021 and was a hit out of the gate. Besides serving the locals with wonderful food choices, a warm friendly feel of community and an attraction to enjoy a meal, customers come from all over, including the Northern part of the state, New York and the Catskills, which ties in nicely to the namesake.

The concept in general is much more than a utility to consume a meal. Visiting the Borscht is a pure experience, bringing together community, the vibe of the classic New York City Jewish deli and unique menu items not generally available in the area.

"We've brought my favorite NYC bagel, the Famous Ess-a-Bagel, into a new joint venture that's allowed us to have daily, fresh baked bagels in communities that don’t get to experience that amazing NYC bagel," says Mike. 

The Borscht Belt Delicatessen soon will have its second outpost. Nick notes that the Newtown location will bring a similar menu of great delicacies, with a slightly more Jewish slant to it, tailoring to the town’s demographics. The location will be staffed by a combination of experienced members who will swing from Stockton and help start things up, along with plenty of new hires from Newtown and the surrounding area.

Nick verifies that he hangs his hat on hard work, great customer service and building a team that can learn and grow.

"I look at myself as a hands-on teacher in addition to top chef and businessperson. One of my many goals is to pass on everything I've learned through scratching my way from the bottom in my 20-plus years in the industry," he proudly admits, remembering that he started with nothing but a surfboard and a dream. 

"I built my career by putting in needed effort, and not being afraid to try new things," adds this self-made successful man.

It’s a dream come true for Nick and Mike to open these locations close to home, they admit, and to make an awesome concept be easily accessible to all. They say they're thrilled to be giving back by connecting the community through a food experience. Nick notes that one of his goals was to “create an environment where people feel comfortable while enjoying consistent and enjoyable experiences."

Mike says what they don’t make in-house, they source from New York, such as rye breads from Rockland Bakery, hard-to find baked goods from kosher bake shops in Brooklyn and Catskills, high-end purveyors of smoked fish from the Catskills, and artisanal coffee from Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Montclair, New Jersey, Paper Plane Coffee Company.

The Newtown location is slated to open for business in October, pending permit approvals. It will offer up some differences not available in Stockton. Nick expresses there will be more display cases of food choices, due to it being a larger space, and it will have some additional, curated unique menu options. Newtown also will have a wide brunch offering, he adds.

Mike and Nick confirm they plan to continue bringing other communities together by food and experience. In fact, they formed a new alliance with Shir Ami Synagogue of Newtown to serve their members with catered meals, events and High Holidays. 

"We're looking to grow within Pennsylvania, as well as other parts of the region and beyond," says Mike. 

Like the sign in the deli states, and a phrase they seem to live by, the guys continue to “Be a Mensch." Oh, and let’s eat!

609.460.4051
TheBorschtBelt.com 

“It’s nostalgia, that’s what we’re selling, and memories, which we base our lives on and thrive on."

  • Photo by Gab Bonghi
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