Stuart Litt plans to stay on through March to help with the transition.
After 50 years behind the counter of Detroit staple Hygrade Deli, Stuart Litt is retiring.
Litt announced the sale of the business and building last March, and the deli’s sale was completed in December.
The deli originally opened in 1955. Litt’s father, Bernie, bought the business in 1972. It’s known for its corned beef sandwiches, soups, chili and the deli’s signature sandwich, the Hygrade Reuben.
The Hygrade Reuben, named one of five “Great Corned Beef Sandwiches” by the Detroit Free Press, features sauerkraut, melted Swiss cheese and a sweet Thousand Island dressing on rye. In January 2021, Food and Wine magazine named Hygrade Deli’s Reuben to its best sandwich in every state list.
Litt is passing the torch to Chuck Nolen, owner for 17 years of Cutter’s Bar and Grill, in the Eastern Market area. Litt plans to stay on through March to help with the transition.
Customers can expect the same from the new owner, Litt said, and his staff will stay on.
Litt says the last 50 years have been a blessing and quite a rollercoaster ride.
“When my dad bought it, the area was thriving with business and people. Then Detroit started to die out in the 1980s and it hurt them bad,” Litt said. “It was a major struggle for me, lots of sacrifices were made by me, my family and employees.”
When Dan Gilbert started buying up property Downtown right after the 2008-2009 recession, people started moving back in and Detroit slowly started coming back, which led to a resurgence for the deli.
“We started to get some of that action,” Litt said. “Social media also helped out tremendously. We started getting foodie reviews and newspaper articles and started getting movies and TV shows shot at the store.”
The deli had scenes in the short-lived ABC series Detroit 1-8-7, in the 2010 movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and in the 2016 movie The Pickle Recipe.
“All this publicity, plus Detroit regenerating itself, helped to regenerate the deli to where business over the last four or five years has just started to trend upward. Last year, we had one of our best years ever,” Litt said. “As we got more well known, we had a lot of dignitaries and well-known sports personalities come through the store. Those are the things I really enjoyed, and I’ll really miss.”
Most of all, though, Litt will miss the customers.
“It’s the daily interaction. Being a place like ours, we have regulars that come in every day or every other day, and there’s a lot of schtick that goes on at the store. The schtick is all generated by me, and we call it entertainment,” he said. “After all these years, the customers kind of expect it when they come in for me to greet them the way I do. I’m going to miss that.”
In February, the deli celebrated Litt’s retirement and introduced Nolen as its new owner. Mayor Mike Duggan and other dignitaries were in attendance.
“What I told everybody in the store when I made my speech, and I’m including my dad in this, all we ever did was come in and show up for work every day,” Litt said. “To me, that says a lot. All we wanted to do was offer the community a good, fair product at a reasonable price. We were there every day and I think we succeeded for the 50 years we’ve been down there.”