The following is a new version of a previously published article, updated at 1:50 p.m. on May 29.
By Alan Feiler and Aliza Friedlander
Ruth Sandler slowly pulled her car into a parking space in front of Gourmet Again on May 29. She walked up to the sliding-glass entryway of the independent food specialty store and carefully studied a typed sign.
“Gourmet Again has closed its doors,” the sign read. “We thank you for your loyal patronage over the years. It has been our pleasure serving this community. ANDY & THE STAFF”
While other older motorists drove cautiously through the desolate parking lot and glanced over at the dark store without stopping, a visibly irked Sandler stood on the sidewalk and shook her head.
“I have a $35 gift certificate from a friend, and I came to use it here today,” said Sandler, an octogenarian who lives in Pikesville’s Pomona neighborhood. “No notice, no nothing? What a way to run a business. They should at least let us get something. They have our money.”
Still, she said, “I am shocked that they’re out of business. I know people who come here all the time. They had things here that you couldn’t get anywhere else. What a shame.”
Another popular fixture in Jewish Baltimore is no more. Gourmet Again, a Pikesville staple located at 3713 Old Court Road, ceased operations on May 28.
Other high-profile, Jewish-owned businesses that have closed their doors over the past couple of years include the Suburban House restaurant, Tuxedo Pharmacy, Cohen’s Clothiers, Greetings & Readings, Donna’s, Trillium and Diversions.
Gourmet Again was owned by Pikesville native and resident Andy Hoffman.
“I just want to thank everyone for their patronage over the years,” he said when approached in his store on May 28 by a Jmore writer. “It’s been a pleasure serving the community.”
Hoffman attributed the demise of Gourmet Again to the economic climate in the food industry today.
[Read a Q&A with Hoffman here.]
On the morning of May 28, Gourmet Again’s shelves were largely empty. Throughout the day, the store was crowded with customers aiming to use their gift certificates and credits, particularly by closing time.
(Jerry Schlichting, Gourmet Again’s former longtime general manager and proprietor of Clean Cuisine caterers, said he will honor all Gourmet Again gift certificates and credits for holiday and shiva trays — over a yearlong period — after opening a store in September at Crondall Corner Shops Shopping Center in Owings Mills. “I look at it as a good faith gesture that’s good for me, Andy and the community,” said Schlichting, noting that customers can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 443-377-5154 for information.)
According to several reports, Gourmet Again’s employees — some of whom have worked there for decades — were informed about the store’s closing on May 27.
“It’s a sad day in Pikesville,” said Jessica Normington, president of the Pikesville Owings Mills Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Gourmet Again has been a staple in the community for many years. It’s always sad to see a go-to place like Gourmet Again close its doors. It would be great if someone could pick up where they left off.”
Shelley Kelly, owner of Pikesville’s Edmart Delicatessen, said of Gourmet Again’s closing, “I’m so upset. I’m beside myself. Andy is such a wonderful person. I don’t know what happened, but it’s such a sad day. [Gourmet Again] will be missed by the community, and we’re sorry to see it leave. Maybe something else will happen there. But we wish him only the best.”
A full-service shop with a deli counter, salad bar, produce, spirits and a cafe, Gourmet Again provided gourmet food and meals for various occasions — engagements, b’nai mitzvah, anniversaries — and for families sitting shiva.
“We share a lot of simchahs [joyous occasions] with our customers, along with the downsides,” Hoffman, 36, a Beth El congregant, told Jmore in a May 2018 profile. “We create a contact person for the house and an account for the family. We help them to order meals and sweets trays. We take out the trash. It’s custom catering. This [catering direction] is where I see the business heading.”
Hoffman said national chains and “industry powerhouses” such as Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s were changing the gourmet and prepared foods landscape.
“They really affect the small companies, and now people can get food delivered to their door,” he said. “We have had to alter our business to make them come out.”
Hoffman said it was Gourmet Again’s personalized service that kept neighborhood customers returning over the years.
“Getting to know the customers is important,” he said. “You can get that danish at four other places. You can get your mashed potatoes at some other place. We have very low employee turnover, and our employees know our customers.
“I try to give over-the-top customer service,” Hoffman said. “We know our customers’ names and their kids’ names. People love what we do here.”
An employee of Ruxton Cleaners, which is located next door to the Gourmet Again space, agreed.
“Yesterday, we were all crying. Everybody’s very sad about this,” said the employee, who declined to give her name. “[Hoffman] is a very good man. He’s been here a long time, and he worked so hard. They have deli food like no one else has. This is history. All of my customers are so sad about this. We’re really going to miss him.”
Gourmet Again was originally known for 25 years as The Gourmet Shop, on Old Court Road and at 1809 Reisterstown Road at the Festival at Woodholme shopping center at the time of its original closing in 1991. Owned by Stanley and Coleman Pressman, The Gourmet Shop was known for its specialty foods and personalized customer service.
Former Gourmet Shop worker Barbara Collurafici and Harold Hackerman, the Pressmans’ nephew, reopened The Gourmet Shop as Gourmet Again in 1994 at its original location on Old Court Road.
In 2007, Collurafici sold her half of Gourmet Again to Hackerman and started (with executive chef Lisa Honick) The Gourmet Girls, an Owings Mills gourmet food and personalized catering business.
Meanwhile, Hoffman, who started working at Gourmet Again as a teenager in 1996, took over as general manager in May of 2007 and bought the business from Hackerman in 2013.
Jerry Mayer, another Pikesville resident who pulled up to Gourmet Again on May 29 with a store half-credit, said he was stunned by the store’s closing.
“I know they had a lot of competition out there these days, with all of the bagel shops and the new Essen Room [deli in Pikesville],” said Mayer, who owns an insurance agency. “Of course, Suburban House is now out of business, too. But I liked [Gourmet Again]. I’ve lived in Pikesville all my life and have used them many times. They always had good service. I’m really surprised. I didn’t know anything about it at all until now. Wow.”