Wise Sons production kitchen ruined in Mission fire

The four-alarm fire that ravaged a building at Mission and 22nd streets in San Francisco last week — killing one person, injuring six and displacing 67 residents, according to reports — destroyed Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen’s preparation and baking facility.

In addition, the deli’s plan to begin making and selling New York–style bagels was dealt a major setback.

The 4,000-square-foot kitchen, which Wise Sons opened in mid-2013, was one of several businesses on the ground floor of the 108-year-old building that caught fire on Jan. 28. It supplied the deli’s main location on 24th Street as well as its operations at the Contemporary Jewish Museum and the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.

The kitchen and office space were destroyed largely by water damage, smoke, heat and debris from collapsed floors above, said Wise Sons co-owner Evan Bloom. He estimated damages at $500,000, with some $40,000 of ruined food (including 1,000 pounds of pastrami and 500 pounds of salmon).

Overall, the fire caused an estimated $8.5 million in damages to the building and its contents, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The cause of the fire, which officials believe started on the third floor, is being investigated.

Wise Sons is “trying to move forward with business as usual, as much as possible,” Bloom said.

There are significant impacts, however, starting with a dearth of bread and baked goods. In addition, Wise Sons won’t be operating at the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market for a while, Bloom said.

Scattered dough and other debris in Wise Sons’ production kitchen photos/courtesy evan bloom

The fire also dealt a blow to Wise Sons’ plans to start making bagels in the 22nd and Mission kitchen and selling them at a few bagel counters around the city. After weeks of testing and fine-tuning plain, sesame, salt and everything bagels, a major launch at all locations was scheduled for this week.

Moreover, a “soft” launch at the 24th Street restaurant was supposed to take place the morning of Jan. 29 — just hours after the fire.

Now, the debut of the bagels is up in the air, as Wise Sons scrambles to find a new baking space.

Some items were salvaged from the building, such as baking trays, mixers and a still-working smoker for making pastrami. But as of early this week, other items such as a built-in rack oven and 12-foot-long bagel-making machine were still question marks.

“Everything was waterlogged and starting to rust,” said Bloom, adding that while Wise Sons does have insurance, it will take a while to sort things out and “it’s not going to cover everything.”

In the short term, Wise Sons is buying rye bread from Max’s deli, continuing to get bagels (weekends only) from Beauty’s Bagel Shop in Oakland and purchasing small amounts of challah and baked goods from other purveyors. In addition, Wise Sons is using the kitchen at the CJM, with baking rye, challah and bialys topping the to-do list.

Despite everything, Wise Sons is going forward with plans to extend its 4-month-old dinner service at the 24th Street restaurant from three nights a week to five. Starting Wednesday, Feb. 11, it will be open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

“We’ve been planning that for awhile, so we’ve got to move forward,” Bloom explained.

Bloom, whose manner was surprisingly upbeat, said he was buoyed by “a good team working for us” and “by people coming into the restaurant who haven’t been there in a long time.” Also, he said Wise Sons has been touched by the many helping hands, such as “synagogues reaching out with kitchen space. The community has been there for us, and it really helps.”

Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.