Then and Now: S.F. deli revival led by Wise Sons is built upon our forebears

In the Talmud, Ben Zoma advises: “Who is wise? He who learns from everyone.”

A minyan of wise sons at Shenson Bros. Kosher Sausage Co. photo/j. files

That might be so. But in the two generations since the Fillmore’s Jewish delis closed up shop, San Francisco has not learned the secrets of Katz’s in New York or Langer’s in L.A. and has failed to keep a superior pastrami sandwich on the market. With the opening of Wise Sons Deli in the Mission District, do we finally have a chance?

Between the 1906 earthquake and World War II, the Fillmore rivaled the Lower East Side in Jewish cultural and culinary energy, if not in population. Catering to a robust Jewish population were Diller’s, Langendorf’s, Waxman’s, the Ukraine, and Shenson Bros. Kosher Sausage Co., food purveyors that sampled from the Mexican, Greek, Italian and Chinese cuisines around them, just as they introduced classic European Jewish foods to the larger San Francisco community.

The foodie buzz suggests that wise sons Evan Bloom and Leo Beckerman have learned their lessons from the pop-up and locally sourced food movements, as well as from the history of the Fillmore, where a correlation between pastrami and population density must surely have existed. If so, perhaps the Wise Sons’ transition from pop-up deli to full-on restaurant in the Mission, a neighborhood as dense and dynamic as the old Fillmore, will be a wise move.

This column is provided to j. by the Contemporary Jewish Museum (, where “California Dreaming: Jewish Life in the Bay Area from the Gold Rush to the Present” is on view.