Tough times? Be creative
When the Detroit Lions lost, Mati’s Deli won
Even without the help of the Detroit Lions,Mati’s Deli had an encouraging 2009. It’s a testament to creativity, innovation and really, really good pastrami.
In 2008, when the Lions managed to evade victory for an entire season,Mati’s owner Lou
Weinstein offered a 10 percent discount to anyone who produced a ticket from yet another
disappointment. “When the Lions lose,” read the Honolulu blue and silver sign on an easel
by the menu board, “you win!”
Only 100 or so customers took him up on it, but probably 10 times that many snapped cell
phone photos and spread the word to their friends. Since the Lions won in only the
third week of the current season, he didn’t bother to repeat the promotion.
If there’s one thing he’s learned about small business, though, it’s that you have to think big,
so he was on to fresh adventures, like harnessing his 29-seat restaurant to the Internet.
Mati’s covers all of 900 square feet at the corner of Monroe and Tenny, half a mile south of
Michigan Avenue in Dearborn. Back when Ford introduced the Model A, in 1927, the
building was a year old Shell station.
Now Ford has been tumble dried and shrunk three sizes, leaving some ofWeinstein’s
former customers out of work and some of his current ones with downsized 30-minute
lunch breaks. OK, he asked himself, how do I respond to that?
The answer: Invest in a computer system that not only takes orders at www.matisdeli.com,
but takes payment. You go to the counter, the friendly lady hands you your sack, you hop
back in your car.
With his knack for promotions and patter,Weinstein puts it this way: “Order online, pay
online, and don’t wait on line.”
As a bonus, you get a free brownie. A really, really good brownie.
It’s harder than it looks
Running a restaurant is one of those things everyone thinks they can do. That, and running the Detroit Lions.
Weinstein, who’ll turn 50 on Monday, has worked at delis since he was 15. There was a
three-year break in his early 20s when he sailed the ocean blue-the Navy made him a
machinist’s mate, not a cook-but otherwise, he’s been involved with feeding people.
Having spent 64 percent of his life wearing an apron, he can attest that it’s a harder
business than it appears, at least if you do it right.
To start with, he works 11-hour days, five days a week… and then comes back on
Saturday.But it’s still fun, and there are perks. He was with a date over the weekend at the
Delux Lounge in Greektown- long divorced, he has two kids and lives in Berkley-and
another bar patron hollered, “Hey,Mati’s Deli!'”
Even if people don’t know his name, they know his face. And his hot turkey or hot brisket
with real mashed potatoes and gravy for only $7.99, which is really, really good.
Keep thinking Mati’s was four years old when Weinstein bought it from the original owner
two decades ago. The first thing he did was upgrade the rawmaterials: Top-end meats,
hand-cut double-baked rye bread.
Whatever the second thing was has been lost to time, but there are constants. His crew of
seven keeps the place clean. Everyone smiles. Show your AAA card or donate to PBS
and they’ll knock 10 percent off your tab.
“You have to keep thinking,” he says. “You have to reinvent yourself. You have to be
Someday, for instance, the Lions will be in the Super Bowl, and to mark the event, Mati’s
Well, he hasn’t come up with that one yet. But he probably has a few years to think about it.