Kosher cooks may be asking, Wheres the beef

After 18 years on Noriega Street, Tel Aviv Strictly Kosher Meats — one of only two kosher butchers in San Francisco — might be forced to close its doors.

Michael Treistman, a fourth-generation butcher, opened the store in 1976, just two years after immigrating to the Bay Area from Odessa. For almost two decades, Treistman has been subleasing the Sunset District space from neighboring tenants including the United Savings Bank, which has occupied the location since 1983.

In May, however, bank property manager Frank Boyeds told Treistman and his sons they had until July 31 to vacate. The bank needs room to expand, he told them.

"It was as if we never existed. We tried to explain, we've been here for 18 years," said Sam Treistman, 26, who works at the butcher shop with his father, Michael, and brother, David, 29.

Despite the eviction notice, Tel Aviv Strictly Kosher Meats is still open for business. The bank has yet to file a formal complaint, pending negotiations with the shop.

"We can't afford to move. There's no way to open up anywhere else. Just moving the refrigeration would cost $45,000 to $60,000. You'd have to break down the door" to remove the equipment, said Treistman.

What's more, the meat market's rent on Noriega Street is $600, at least one-third less money than comparable locations the Treistmans have looked at. The butchers say they are willing to relocate but can't afford to pay moving costs without a loan or other assistance from the bank.

Right now, the only assistance the three butchers are receiving is from Howard Simon, a lawyer, customer and family friend who is working for the Treistmans pro bono. Simon is currently negotiating with the bank, and said, "They've been very cooperative. I'm hopeful that we will reach some resolution."

Dennis Lee, a corporate counselor for the bank, said he is also hoping to "work things out." As for the possibility of United Savings allowing the butcher to remain at the Noriega Street location permanently, Lee said that is unlikely, if not impossible.

"The bank needs space. We're enlarging our business. We don't like to be in the business of leasing to other people," said Lee.

Meanwhile, the unexpected eviction couldn't have come at a worse time for the family of kosher butchers. The High Holy Day season, beginning in just a few weeks, is like the Christmas season for retailers, said Treistman — heavy volume that covers costs for leaner times during the year. In fact, he added, 40 percent of the store's annual revenue comes from a combination of Passover and High Holy Days sales.

If Tel Aviv Strictly Kosher Meats is forced to close, the Treistman family won't be the only people struggling to put food on the table. An estimated 400 to 500 kosher-observant customers would be left with only one kosher meat merchant in the city, Israel Kosher Meat, Poultry and Deli on Geary Boulevard.

Leah Radstone has her kosher chicken delivered all the way from the kosher butcher to her home in Santa Rosa via Greyhound bus. If the meat store ends up on the chopping block, the private investigator said she'll have a hard time replacing the "unparalleled service" she's gotten for the last five years.

"We're on a budget, and need to get as much `cluck' from our kosher chicken buck," said Radstone.

For now, those asking, "Where's the certified kosher beef?" can still find it on Noriega Street, but the Treistmans and their longtime customers are wondering how long it will stay that way.