From a 1997 issue of the Jewish Bulletin, this publication's previous name.
From a 1997 issue of the Jewish Bulletin, this publication's previous name.

Bay Area delis and Jewish markets of yore — gone but not forgotten

Samuel’s Deli, Tel Aviv Strictly Kosher, Aladdin Restaurant, Irving Kosher Meats, Shenson’s Deli, David’s Deli, Moishe’s Pippic, Max’s Deli, Miller’s East Coast.

These were just some of the delis, kosher markets and bagel bakeries of the Bay Area. For a community of immigrants and children of immigrants, they were the secular anchors of Jewish identity, places to savor being a Jew through a different kind of ritual: one that involved the succulent saltiness of pastrami on the tongue, the vinegar nip of pickles in the air, the chewy give of the perfect rye bread.

Most, though not all, are gone.

But many had a good run. Shenson’s Kosher Market first opened in either 1882 or 1897 on Folsom Street and then moved to McAllister Street in what was then a Jewish neighborhood. It later moved to Geary Blvd., and as Shenson’s Deli fed San Francisco Jews with pastrami, corned beef, matzah ball soup and kosher wines. In 1997, owner Alexandra Allen tried to raffle it off but failed. It was sold two years later but didn’t survive; the deli shut for good in 2000.

Not all restaurants lasted that long. In 1958, this paper ran an ad announcing a new restaurant:

“Lisa’s Kosher Style Restaurant at Taylor and Eddy Sts., has become one of the popular meeting places for those who enjoy the best in Kosher style cooking. Prepared by Lisa, a wide selection of traditional specialties is being served.”

From a 1990 issue of the Jewish Bulletin
From a 1990 issue of the Jewish Bulletin

More than 30 years later, the eponymous Lisa Siemel was still cooking — but for Max’s Deli, the chain. She and her husband had to close their own restaurant in 1968.

“The old generation died and a lot of Jewish people moved down the Peninsula,” she told the paper in 1990. “On Passover I used to have white tablecloths, candles. But the Jewish people, they didn’t come.”

Siemel found a new home making gefilte fish and knishes at Max’s, a powerhouse for many years with locations across the Bay Area, including San Jose.

In the Outer Sunset, Tel Aviv Strictly Kosher Meats was founded in 1976 by Mikhail Treistman, a Holocaust survivor from Odessa, Ukraine. For decades, Treistman and his sons sliced meat, until a robbery and beating in 2003 left Treistman with brain damage that made it hard for him to run the shop. In 2005, he sold it to a pair of Israeli brothers. Alex Keselman, a physician, and his brother Ron, a financier, thought they could hire someone to handle the day-to-day. Instead it took over their lives. It was sold again, and in 2011 went out of business. There’s no longer a dedicated kosher butcher in San Francisco, although there are markets where kosher meat is available.

The Treistmans of Tel Aviv Strictly Kosher Meats in 1995
The Treistmans of Tel Aviv Strictly Kosher Meats in 1995

Miller’s East Coast Deli had one location in San Rafael and one in San Francisco, on Polk Street. Both are now closed. While the S.F. storefront held out for 18 years, the San Rafael shop, which also supplied sandwiches to the local JCC, lasted only four. In 2015, owner Robby Morgenstein told J. that costs were too high and he “didn’t want to be the guy selling a pastrami sandwich for $19.”

“When I realized I’d have to raise prices a second time, that’s when I decided to shut it down,” he said of the San Rafael shop. The Polk Street location closed in 2019.

It’s not always about the ghosts of sandwiches past, though. Some businesses are still around.

Long before the New York Times wrote that the best bagels are in California, we reported that “New York is still the capital of the bagel industry, but the Bay Area is holding its own.”

“In the Bay Area, interestingly, many bagel customers are non-Jewish,” we wrote in 1984. “The product has scored heavily among college students because bagels are inexpensive and among the Asian community.”

An ad for Ossosky's Kosher Restaurant from an 1897 issue of the Emanu-El, this paper's original name.
An ad for Ossosky’s Kosher Restaurant from an 1897 issue of the Emanu-El, this paper’s original name.

Richmond staple House of Bagels was founded in 1962 by Sid Chassy (he died in 2008). In 1984 he had two stores in San Francisco and one in Burlingame, and told the paper he grossed more than $1 million per year. The chain is under new ownership, but you can still pick up a bagel at Houses of Bagels not only in San Francisco but also in Oakland, Alameda and Walnut Creek. Saul’s in Berkeley has been welcoming customers to its red booths for almost 40 years and narrowly survived the pandemic. Izzy’s Brooklyn Bagels is still boiling up kosher bagels in Palo Alto.

Although too many beloved restaurants and markets to name have vanished, in their place have risen new touchstones for a new generation of Jews. Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen is almost an empire, with outposts in Southern California and Tokyo, while Berkeley’s Boichik Bagels has lines around the block. The borekas are puffing up at Frena in S.F., and Loveski’s “Jew-ish” deli in Napa does a busy trade in trout roe and miso cream cheese-topped bagel sandwiches. The Thai-influenced “Bangkok sandwich” at Solomon’s Deli in Sacramento may not be traditional, but it’s delicious.

The restaurants may be different, but what hasn’t changed is the way Jewish food lies at the intersection of pleasure and culture. Jewish children in the Bay Area may lack the chance to eat at their grandparent’s local lunch spot, but one day they will be telling their own grandchildren about just how great a nosh was from Beauty’s Bagel Shop.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.