Lights out at Moishes Pippic after 26 years in deli business

After 26 years of grinding chopped liver by hand six days a week, Joe Sattler has closed Moishe’s Pippic, the Jewish delicatessen he opened in 1987 in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley.

The Chicago-style deli ended its run on Nov. 30. A sign on the door the next day read, in part: “We all would like to thank you so much for your patronage and loyalty. It is hard to say goodbye and we will miss you all!”

Joe Sattler

“I had been tossing things around for awhile, and between me and my bride, we decided it was time for me to retire,” said Sattler, 66. He and his wife, Juana, who live in San Francisco, will be celebrating their 44th anniversary later this month.

His retirement plans? “Do nothing and have a good time — and travel.”

Until this week, Sattler had worked pretty much six days a week year-round. In an interview in honor of the deli’s 25th anniversary on Dec. 1, 2012, Sattler explained how he used an old-fashioned meat grinder to make his chopped chicken liver. Hand-grinding leaves the liver a bit coarse, he said, preferable to the smooth results from a Cuisinart. He would then mix in shmaltz, caramelized onion, a touch of oil, hard-boiled egg and a pinch of granulated garlic powder, but no salt.

The chopped liver — served with fresh matzah, if a customer was so inclined — was one of the deli’s most popular items. Other favorites included matzah ball soup, hot brisket every Friday, pastrami and corned beef sandwiches, and a selection of seven hot dogs and Polish sausages. Many of the items had special names related to Chicago, such as the “Sears Tower” sandwich or the “Wrigley Field” hot dog.

When Sattler bought Moishe’s Pippic (“pippic” means belly button in Yiddish), it was a defunct deli decorated mainly with Chicago sports posters, and he never changed the motif. And though it was something of an institution, he was surprised with the outpouring of emotion this week over the deli’s closure.

“You can’t imagine” the response, Sattler said. “I wouldn’t put this place on a pedestal, but I was the only deli in Hayes Valley, period, Jewish or not. That was a big thing for people in this area.”

Rabbi Larry Raphael of Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco was an occasional  customer at the deli. After all, Sattler is a member of the congregation, and Raphael officiated at the wedding of Sattler’s daughter, Anna.

“I’m sorry to hear about the closure and will miss the good food and the good company Joe has provided,” Raphael said. “I’ve had their kreplach and their pastrami and their Chicago-style hot dogs — and good times with Joe and his family. He worked so hard.”

After the closure sign went up, a lot of people came by the deli to offer best wishes.

“I didn’t realize we were so well liked,” said Sattler, a native of Brazil whose mom once owned a Jewish restaurant in Hungary. “It’s amazing. I’m impressed, no kidding.”

Sattler was unable to start his retirement immediately, as he spent four days this week having equipment hauled away and tying up loose ends.

He and his wife thought about trying to sell the deli, but opted against it. When he moved into the rented space on Hayes Street 26 years ago, the area was “a war zone … one of the worst areas of San Francisco,” but has become very trendy in recent years.

Through all the gentrification and rent increases, Moishe’s Pippic persisted — even though the deli never had a website, let alone a Facebook page or Twitter account.

“The people, they made this place a homey place,” Sattler said. “It was not just a deli, but more of a gathering place.”

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.