Benny Cukier is always on the move.
When not running his businesses, he is finding other things to spend his seemingly endless amount of energy on.
So when he spends three-and-a-half hours five times a week in a stationary spot receiving dialysis for kidney disease, he gets antsy.
“I use it as a time to strategize,” he said. “I have a computer in there and a big TV and it overlooks my backyard. I’ve never really had three-and-a-half hours of time just to contemplate.”
And strategizing is a must, as Cukier runs several businesses that require a significant amount of attention.
Most well-known of these to Bellevue residents is Goldberg’s Deli in Factoria (with a downtown location as well), which Cukier says he raised up from a marginal spot to the thriving restaurant it is now. He is majority owner of the restaurant, splitting shares with other Jewish businessmen who invested in the delicatessen to keep in touch with their roots.
“They have interest, love deli and are Jewish,” Cukier said. “When I took this over, it was almost belly-up. I let go 60 or 70 percent of the employees and have built a new, strong business.”
He freely admits he is a ruthless businessman, and if you don’t fit into his vision, you are out the door. His son Jason joined him at the deli and is poised to take over once Cukier decides to take it easy — which could be in the next several months or years from now.
He also runs Group Travel Associates, Inc., a U.S./Canadian business that plans accommodations for large events such as the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle in mid-February.
“I’ve been doing it for 42 years and I’m damn good at it now,” he said. “My dad used to work with trade shows, working with hotel rooms and the trade people.”
To rent a convention center, there is usually a requirement that event-goers will rent a certain amount of hotel rooms. Cukier works with groups (such as Portland’s ComicCon, the Pacific Northwest Sportsman Show and the Green Technologies Suppliers Meetings) and hotels to ensure everyone has a place to sleep and they aren’t getting gouged for it. He’s a talented, stubborn negotiator and a professional middleman.
“You have the responsibility of 20-30,000 people on you,” Cukier said. “It’s stressful when people first arrive but you can relax after they check in.”
The business depends on his negotiation skills, so once he retires, Group Travel Associates is kaput, he said.
Cukier, 59, admits that living large has taken its toll on his health. His wife Peggy administers the dialysis most of the time. Northwest Kidney Centers provides assistance. It can be taxing on both of them.
“In reality I knew I earned it,” he said of his disease. “I abused my health, and overate for years. [Peggy] has taken on the challenge admirably.”
Still a large man, Cukier said he has lost 250 pounds from his heaviest and is doing better in terms of his diet. Not an easy task when his deli makes “the best Reuben sandwich in the Pacific Northwest.”
Still, the Sammamish resident balances his hectic life with his healthcare needs. While in Minnesota for the last week’s NFL Wildcard Playoff game, he planned ahead for dialysis treatment while he was there, and has done the same for Charlotte, North Carolina.
To whom does he ascribe all this energy and drive? His parents are the most likely candidates.
“For who I am, I give my father 99 percent of the credit, my mother too,” Cukier said. “I had great parents. My father built himself up from the ground up.”
Max Cukier, who died in 2011, was born in Ryki, Poland in 1918 and took up arms against the Third Reich in 1942, joining the famous Bielski Brigade of partisan fighters, meeting his wife during this period. They survived the war, emigrated to the United States and started a wildly successful importing business in Los Angeles.
Cukier said his father’s generosity, strict countenance and business acumen were instrumental in shaping him.
As such, his businesses have taken on his big and bold personality. Goldberg’s has become a Bellevue institution in its own right, attracting celebrities, business leaders and players for Cukier’s beloved Seahawks.
But a heart attack seven weeks ago and other health issues might finally have slowed his pace. However, you wouldn’t know it by talking to him.
“My whole thing is that dialysis shouldn’t interrupt what you do and how you do it,” Cukier said. “I think my life is pretty fulfilled. If I didn’t keep the adrenaline going, I’m not sure what I would do.”