Every kid is an entrepreneur. There is lemonade to sell, lawns to mow, babies to sit– the list is endless. Mike Dalewitz was a born entrepreneur. From an early age, he shoveled snow and collected bottles for recycling deposits. Yet his business dreams were bigger, and they were the start of a lifetime of dreaming, doing, and most of all, succeeding.
With an entrepreneurial mother who created a real estate construction group and a wealth manager father, Mike had the best of both worlds from a business standpoint. Using his dad’s tax identification number, Mike launched MD Sports Collectibles. He was going to trade shows and doing catalog sales before he was old enough to attend Clarkstown High School North in his hometown of New City, N.Y. “After seeing my parents taking their passions, seeing what they’d done, I tried to mirror it. I actually had a very profitable business at age 9,” Mike, a New Hope/Solebury resident for six years, said.
MD Sports Collectibles was the first but not the last company Mike would grow from an idea, an interest and the discovery of a marketplace gap. Combining that with his skills in technology, hospitality and law, he has created countless startups that earned him the label of attorney turned serial entrepreneur. His latest ventures, including New Hope-based 618 Hospitality Group and its Borscht Belt Delicatessen at the Stockton Market and The Mindful Mentor, where he shares his knowledge and aids others on their business journeys, allows him to share his expertise as a business turnaround expert, restaurateur and inspirational coach, respectively.
On his way to those credentials, the 42-year-old has faced many forks in the road, including one that lead to culinary school. “When I was in high school, I had a passion for cooking. To be honest, my mother would not let me be a chef,” Mike, who is a certified winemaker as well as a certified spin instructor, said. “She said, ‘When do you ever see a chef be successful?’ It was Julia Child, and maybe the beginning of Emeril Lagassé, but we weren’t there yet.”
Today, celebrity chefs fill our screens, name our cookware and open our favorite restaurants, and Mike would return to that love of cooking as The Borscht Belt’s co-founder and chairman. Before that, he attended the University of Florida for two and a half years to earn his bachelor’s in criminology. According to Mike, his autobiographical memory made schoolwork a breeze, and he was able to use the college-level courses he took throughout high school as university credits. He began pursuing a bachelor’s in business and finance but switched to the degree he earned in 2000. That set up another fork more than a decade later and was also behind his reason for attending New York Law School, where he earned a J.D. in 2004. “My real vision was to join the FBI as a special agent, and I thought being a lawyer would help. In 2011, I went through the full FBI phase testing, the whole program. All that was left to do was go to Quantico, but because one of my companies that was rising was in the legal field of electronic discovery and cyberforensics, I was told it posed a conflict. I would have to get rid of my company to join the bureau, so I declined,” Mike, who added he detoured into standup comedy when his law school closed and regrouped following the 9/11 attacks, said. “And, you know, the business went gangbusters.”
A growing business was one thing, but it was his growing family that made the decision easy. He and wife Alison had just had daughter Madison, who will be 11 in November. “I looked at the most important thing to me. Maybe it wasn’t my own thing. Maybe the most important thing was right in front of me,” Mike, whose family with Alison has since grown with daughter McKenzie, 8, and Coco, a year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, said.
It would not be the last time, though, that the word “gangbusters” and one of Mike’s startups would be in the same sentence. He was the founder and CEO of MD Events & Entertainment Agency, which he ran while attending law school. He launched Peak Discovery in 2005 and Inspired Review in 2013, both of which were acquired by others. Currently, Mike is involved with B2L Design Build, whose latest project with New Hope’s Alpha Genesis Design Build is a revamp of 27 W. Mechanic St.; cueLESS, which is a software company that coordinates customer pickups with arrival times for businesses; and Cotup, a career networking platform that creates vetted niche communities.
His Midas touch has also landed on 618 Hospitality Group, which in addition to launching its own restaurants provides consulting and capital to troubled dining establishments and bars, and The Borscht Belt, which dishes Jewish deli delicacies that harken back to the Catskills resorts. The hospitality group and its Stockton, N.J., restaurant that is located a few minutes from Bucks County across the Delaware River are just the beginning in Mike’s eyes. “The turnaround aspect was important during the pandemic and will be a part of our business always because of our multiple backgrounds,” Mike said of 618 Hospitality and his restaurateur-veteran partner, Borsht Belt co-founder and executive chef Nick Liberato. “What we landed on with The Borsht Belt has been magical, with calls from investors all over the country wanting to put this in hotels and airports and casinos in their towns. They said, ‘You landed on such a winning concept where it’s retro, and you have a great chef behind it.’”
Mike, who was honored by the University of Florida in 2015 as its Outstanding Young Alumni of the Year and in 2017 with its Horizon Award, has a whiteboard of ideas and a mindset of “I can do this,” adding with a laugh that “‘can’ may stand for Constant And Never-Ending.” Busy as he may be, he finds time for his favorite pastimes, including watching New York and Gator sports teams, cooking, mixology, reading and music. He sang in a band while in college and loves seeing live acts, but it’s clear one group has shaped his life in a profound, almost mystical, way. “I have a sister who’s five years older, and she decided she wasn’t into the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors. All of a sudden there were these CDs she was throwing out,” Mike, who also operates The Borscht Belt with co-founder and partner Steve Lau of Bucks County, said.
The 11-year-old flipped through the classic rock and came upon “Skeletons from the Closet: The Best of Grateful Dead.” The band known for its live jams and dedicated fans has since become a lucky thread throughout Mike’s life, especially when it comes to his favorite concert from 6/18/74.
Along with June 18 being his wedding anniversary, it’s also McKenzie’s birthday. He bonded with Nick, a Bucks County resident who can be seen in Netflix’s “Restaurants on the Edge” and Paramount Network’s “Bar Rescue,” over their shared love of the band and that Louisville, Kentucky., show. And, according to Mike, Nick’s daughter was also born June 18. “Too much energy there, right?” Mike said of the numbers and their positive connections.
“Too much energy” can also be applied to Mike, and besides family and business, he pours that into his adopted home. He is a charter member of Bucks Beautiful and a board member and term chair of the Bucks County Playhouse. He has been restoring and renovating the home he purchased that belonged to the late musician Leon Redbone. Yet his connection to Bucks County is not new. He began visiting the area at age two with family, then with friends, while growing up in New York. The ties grew stronger when Mike and Alison would visit from their home in New York City. “We just fell in love with the area. It actually started 13 years ago, becoming friendly with the people, just hanging out and meeting more people. We started spending every other weekend here and decided to try this as home,” he said, “and we love it.”
For more information on 618 Hospitality Group, contact 618hospitality.com or 917-612-8518; on The Borscht Belt Delicatessen at the Stockton Market, 19 Bridge St., Stockton, N.J., visit theborschtbelt.com; and/or on The Mindful Mentor, visit themindfulmentor.com.
Cynthia Marone is a freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia.