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Skokie Deli Damaged By Fire Overnight

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Kaufman's Bakery & Delicatessen in Skokie was forced to close after a fire on Nov. 6, 2011, damaged the popular deli. (Credit: Steve Miller, WBBM)

Kaufman’s Bakery & Delicatessen in Skokie was forced to close after a fire on Nov. 6, 2011, damaged the popular deli. (Credit: Steve Miller, WBBM)

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Updated 11/6/11 – 3:35 p.m.

SKOKIE, Ill. (CBS) – A popular deli and bakery in north suburban Skokie has been shut down after a fire overnight.

As CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole reports, the fire broke out around 2 a.m. at Kaufman’s Bakery & Delicatessen, on the 4900 block of Dempster Street in Skokie, as workers prepared for the Sunday morning rush.

“They tried to put the fire out themselves. They pulled extinguishers off the walls. When they couldn’t do it themselves, they called the Skokie Fire Department,” said owner Bette Dworkin.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Miller reports

Fire officials said the fire was most likely sparked by malfunctioning cooking equipment.

As Skokie Fire crews arrived to calm the blaze they knew they were fighting to save a landmark. Kaufman’s opened in 1955 by Holocaust survivor Maury Kaufman.

“It has been an icon for many, many years – at least 30 that I can remember,” Skokie Deputy Fire Chief Barry Liss said.

The fire also ruined nearly 600 salamis that were curing at the deli. They were to have been charitable donations for troops serving in Afghanistan.

“We can’t send them now because they have been exposed to the fire,” Dworkin said. “The health department told us that we can’t take any chances, so unfortunately they’re going to have to be destroyed.”

Dworkin and her mother, Judith, have run Kaufman’s since the 1980s.

They boast about having the best corned beef in town and their bagels had USA Today naming Kaufman’s one of the best bakeries in the country.

All morning long on Sunday, cars were pulling into the bakery’s parking lot, only to be greeted by boarded up windows and broken glass on the ground.

“We’ve had customers crying, getting out of their cars and crying and telling us they can’t wait for us to open back up again,” Dworkin said.

“My parents used to come here all the time — that’s how I learned about, was it through my parents,” Winnetka resident Nancy Marcus said.

Asked how it feels to see that kind of reaction from the community, Dworkin said, “It’s a tremendous sense of community. We’ve been here a long time and we know that people care about us. … It feels wonderful. It kind of balances having something like that happen.”

In the meantime, Dworkin has sent her regulars to the equally popular New York Bagel just down the street.

“People do need their bagels every Sunday. That’s the busiest day of the week,” New York Bagel manager Zivka Jovanovich said.

Dworkin said Kaufman’s will be back “better and stronger” and she hopes to reopen in less than a month. She said a builder who’s looked at the building told her the damage is not as bad as it looks.

“The equipment all seems to be fine. We’ll have to replace all the electrical and then have everything checked out,” she said. “We’re reopening and we’re reopening, needless to say, as fast as we humanly can.”

“We hope it’s a short-lived disaster,” said customer Linda Loew. “I’m an original New Yorker, but the debates abound about who’s got the best bagels – New York, Chicago, Montreal – but I think I’ve become a definite convert.”

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