Greg Bernson and his daughter Janelle Loiselle behind the counter of Magnolia Park Kitchen, site of their Bubbala's pop up, in August 2022. (Photo/Alix Wall)
Greg Bernson and his daughter Janelle Loiselle behind the counter of Magnolia Park Kitchen, site of their Bubbala's pop up, in August 2022. (Photo/Alix Wall)

All in the family: Bubbala’s father-daughter deli pop-up ready for holidays

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Without the pandemic, Marin’s newest Jewish deli concept might never have come to be. “Covid is what made Bubbala’s happen,” said Greg Bernson of the San Rafael pop-up he started with his daughter, Janelle Loiselle. “I must have cooked 800 pounds of brisket during Covid, and I began to think, let’s open a deli.”

Soon the father-daughter duo will be taking orders for Bubbala’s Rosh Hashanah menu, available for pickup or delivery at the Magnolia Park Kitchen, where they’ve operated two pop-ups so far. The menu will include chicken schnitzel with a pomegranate-honey glaze and such standards as brisket, kugel and matzah ball soup.

“Ninety-eight percent of the time, I make a perfect knaidel,” Bernson said.

Bernson, 63, and Loiselle, 33, felt Bubbala’s would be a way to make connections in their “new” home (Bernson has been here for a decade, but Loiselle is a recent arrival), while maintaining a connection via Jewish food to the one they left behind in Norfolk, Connecticut.

“We were happy to start over, but being away from our [extended] families and the traditions we grew up with was hard,” said Loiselle.

As they explored Marin, they didn’t come across a lot of delis. (Wise Sons had an outpost at Larkspur Landing for a few years but has since closed.)

Their conclusion? “This community is starving for a decent Jewish deli,” Bernson said. The long lines at the pop-ups a few weeks ago proved them right.

“We sold just short of 100 pounds of pastrami and just short of 40 pounds of corned beef,” Bernson said the day after their second pop-up. “We sold all the whitefish salad and herring.”

The pastrami, sold in sandwich form as well as packaged for takeout, was everything pastrami should be, though this columnist thought it could use a bit more salt. To appease the health-conscious Marin crowd, Bernson relies on celery salt for brining rather than on unhealthy nitrites.

“My husband said it was the best Reuben he’s ever had,” a woman was overheard telling Bernson.

Bernson’s pastrami obsession began in Norfolk, where cooking brisket for a barbecue festival got him interested in learning to make Jewish pastrami. The three-week process includes brining the meat for over two weeks, then smoking and steaming it.

Bernson spent most of his life in catering on the East Coast. When he arrived in San Rafael, he worked at Whole Foods and ran a café at Kaiser, but he missed the creativity he enjoyed when he was in charge.

Meanwhile, Loiselle had moved to Los Angeles and attended pastry school. When she and her husband Marty had their second child, the family moved to Fairfax to be closer to her parents. Bubbala’s is fully a family affair: Loiselle’s mother, Maria, watches the grandchildren when Loiselle’s working; Marty does the publicity and social media; and Bernson’s sister Hollyworks the cash register, among other tasks.

Bernson spoke of his maternal grandfather Jack, who though not a professional cook expressed his love for his family through food.

RELATED: How much will your Rosh Hashanah brisket cost this year?

“He was what we want to be when we grow up, the kindest and gentlest guy who loved to cook,” Bernson said. “Our coffee cake is his recipe. He was always in the kitchen making mandelbrot or the best pancakes.”

Bernson and Loiselle chose the name Bubbala’s because they found no other Jewish deli with that name, and the word is all about warmth and family.

“We’re trying to infuse that spirit of Grandpa Jack into Bubbala’s,” said Loiselle. “You will always be your mother’s bubbala, and if you’re lucky enough to have kids, you have bubbalas. This is really all about family.”

Baking is Loiselle’s domain, and so far, both Jewish and non-Jewish desserts have been on offer. There are fruit pies, but also hand pies both savory and sweet, including a Reuben hand pie, with the pastrami and fixings enclosed in dough. Additionally, there are rugelach and Loiselle’s spin on a black-and-white cookie: a sugar cookie without frosting that has, instead, a stripe of coffee flavoring down the middle.

While it’s still very early in the life of Bubbala’s, Bernson and Loiselle have goals in mind. Rather than open their own restaurant (which they feel would stifle their creativity), the duo envisions ramping up to possibly five events a month, such as ticketed dinners, brunches and Jewish holidays.

“Pop-ups offer us the ability to be seasonal,” said Loiselle, who is already thinking about a latke party. “They can be more fun for everyone.”

While earning money is an obvious reason for their pop-up partnership, it’s clear the father and daughter are enjoying working together, too.

“I have this very strange dream that we’re going to do this, and in three years, we’ll have built something that’s making us a nice living,” Bernson said. “Then I’m going to go and travel around in a motorhome with a smoker, selling pastrami, and getting a small commission from whatever she sells [at Bubbala’s].”

Then he adds, “She doesn’t know that.”

Loiselle laughs, and then says, “I love you, Dad.”

Bubbala’s will continue to pop up in San Rafael. Follow @bubbalas on Instagram.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."