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Shapiro's Deli owner worried about U.S. food security, calls on elected officials

As a fourth-generation owner of a century-old grocery and deli — Brian Shapiro is worried about the nation's food supply.
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Posted at 3:20 PM, Apr 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-16 07:03:52-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Brian Shapiro instinctively knew the coronavirus was going to hit the United States.

"I had a gut feeling that it was coming," Shapiro, owner of Shapiro's Delicatessen in Indianapolis, said.

He didn't see a global shutdown coming, nor did he see the economy taking a chance at collapsing just 12 years after the last recession. Still, Shaprio said he knew it was going to hit the American food industry in some capacity.

As a fourth-generation grocery, deli and restaurant owner, Shapiro knows a thing or two about food conservation — but as a survivor of two crises, he knows about emergency management and preparation.

When Shapiro was growing up as a kid, he experienced the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. A historical moment he could never forget.

"Sometime after that, my father had a little bomb shelter ... once a week we would go down and take inventory, of powdered milk, bottled water and cans of food," Shapiro said. "Even as something that was a long time ago ... It was just that childhood memory."

With this in mind, Shapiro began stocking up his inventory when he first heard reports of the coronavirus in other parts of the world.

Sen. Ted Cruz visits Shapiro's Deli on Indy trip
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz during the first visit of his campaign to Indiana in 2016.
Before a private event on the south side of Indianapolis, Cruz stopped in at Shapiro's Delicatessen downtown.
Brian Shapiro is pictured left.

"Obviously, we didn't have to the extent that we needed, but we had enough gloves and chemicals that we could [stay open]," Shapiro said.

To say Shapiro was prepared for the COVID-19 crisis would be slightly far-fetched, but to say he was equipped to take the pressure of it all, couldn't be more accurate.

Shapiro also bares the memory of the 2002 fire that damaged his family's downtown Indianapolis deli close to mind.

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"I had a little bit of experience in what to do in case of a crisis," Shapiro said. "Now, granted, a fire crisis is different than this crisis — but it's still crisis management."

Although he has taken measures he can personally control during the coronavirus pandemic, he is worried about what is out of his control.

"Do you understand the importance of our elected officials? To make sure we have the largest crop of food ever planted in America?" Shapiro asked.

"We need to produce the most food, agriculture, ever made," Shapiro continued. "And the elected officials need to guarantee the entire food chain process a profit. That if they don't need this much food, it's not going to wipe them out."

As a non-practicing certified public accountant and Juris doctor (CPA/JD), Shapiro wants plans to put into place by our federal government to protect the U.S. Food Supply.

As ready as he is to handle a crisis, Shapiro said not a single part of the food industry will be able to handle a global fallout.

"People have to eat, but we also can't kill the economy forever. Because if you run out of food, you will have civil unrest," Shapiro said.

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Shapiro has ideas and opinions for what should be done with the nation's food supply chain — encompassing our meat processing plants, warehouses and grocery stores.

"We need to produce the most food, agriculture, ever made," Shapiro said. "And the elected officials need to guarantee the entire food chain process a profit. That if they don't need this much food, it's not going to wipe them out."

All in all, Shapiro's Deli is still open and running.

Shapiro himself may be worried about many things — his country, the weather and the food supply on a global scale — but he's chosen to focus on what he can control, and that's Indy's local hospitality and service industry.

"They're also going to have to help the local hospitality businesses, like me, as we redesign our restaurants for this," Shapiro said. "We're all in the same boat."

Shapiro says the neighborhood just south of downtown Indianapolis has really pulled together in these trying times.

MORE | Where to find fresh, local produce around Indianapolis during COVID-19 crisis |

"There are other little restaurants that are helping supplement the food need in the area, because, you know, the only food that they have around here are these convenience stores. They sell Cheetos. I mean, there is nothing healthy about that," Shapiro said.

Shapiro's been running the Shapiro's Deli establishments that include one in Downtown Indy, Carmel and the Indianapolis International Airport for about 40 years.

But now, it's about providing only the essential items, as the deli dramatically cut back its typically wide-selection of foods.

"Our roots are in the grocery business, but ... we have a bakery, we have meats, and we have just scaled back into doing our core business: our sandwiches, cheesesteaks, corn beef, and pastrami. Just our basic foods that you can't buy at the grocery store," Shapiro said.

Shaprio's went from employing around 50 people to ten. Twenty of those workers were all in food production; now, four of the ten currently employed are running the operations.

Shapiro is now wondering the million-dollar question: how does the nation reopen? How does the hospitality and service industry pick up again?

"This is one of those times that we have to be forward-thinking," Shapiro said. "The federal government has the power to protect the entire logistics of the food chain."

Shapiro's Deli
808 S Meridian St
Monday-Sunday: 10:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.
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