San Francisco Jewish deli Rye Project calls it quits

The Bay Area has lost another Jewish delicatessen, one that launched barely two years ago.

Adam Mesnick

Rye Project shut down at the end of last week, after owner Adam Mesnick decided not to renew the lease when it ends early next year. The modest, 10-seat establishment was located on Seventh Street in San Francisco, in a gritty, drug-laden South of Market stretch that often created headaches for Mesnick.

The deli opened in July 2014, as this publication announced with some fanfare, serving traditional, overstuffed Jewish deli sandwiches, smoked fish or lox on bagels and, occasionally, matzah ball soup — things that were near and dear to Mesnick, a Cleveland native who grew up on classic Jewish deli such as Corky & Lenny’s and Slyman’s. His first venture was Deli Board, which he opened on nearby Folsom Street in 2011, using Jewish deli meats and sauces to construct succulent sandwiches on soft rolls, and it became a successful sandwich shop. But in his heart, he yearned to have a real Jewish deli, so three years later he launched Rye Project, calling it a “newish delicatessen.”

However, sandwich consumer trends led him to juggle the menu a year into Rye Project’s run. He installed a lineup of sandwiches with creative names and ingredients — just like at Deli Board — though they always included Jewish deli meats and were served either on rye or onion rolls. Patrons also could order “classic” pastrami or corned beef sandwiches, for $13 or $16 a pop, or a few other favorites, such as whitefish salad on an open-faced bagel or a Dr. Brown’s soda (though no chopped liver, sadly). It was a lunch place, open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“The business at Rye was steady, and we did fine in the space,” Mesnick said by email this week. “The reality is there is an end of the line on the lease and … one store in a two-block radius is plenty.” Deli Board is only a five-minute walk away.

“Also, it’s a great space, just very small,” he added, citing problems such as storage and limited cooking capabilities. Much of the food was prepped at Deli Board.

“There just isn’t a bright future in the space, and I needed to make a business decision, add hours at the Deli Board and start moving on.” Deli Board, which will add some Rye Project sandwiches to its menu, will be open seven days a week starting Oct. 23.

Asked if another authentic Jewish deli might be in his future, Mesnick commented, “It’s clear that the market is shifting” (which sounds like a “no”). “We are looking forward to starting to grow the Deli Board brand.”

Rye Project is the latest casualty in Bay Area Jewish deli. Last year, Miller’s East Coast Delicatessen shut down its San Rafael location, and in late 2013, Moishe’s Pippic closed after 26 years. Meanwhile, in Berkeley, the owners of Saul’s Restaurant and Deli are seeking buyers so the area doesn’t lose another Jewish deli when they retire.

That doesn’t mean it’s all gloom and doom in the local Jewish deli world. In San Francisco, there is Miller’s East Coast Deli, Shorty Goldstein’s, Paulie’s Pickling, two Wise Sons locations and the House of Bagels on Geary Boulevard, which isn’t a true deli but has a small menu and the feel of an authentic, back East Jewish deli. Saul’s in Berkeley, Beauty’s Bagel Shop in Oakland and Bubbie’s Love in Sacramento are other options.

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.