Terri and Mark Stark were looking forward to opening their Jewish deli in the North Bay.
Terri and Mark Stark were looking forward to opening their Jewish deli in the North Bay.

Jewish-owned food businesses hit hard by coronavirus restrictions

Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

In early March, Grossman’s Noshery & Bar started a new Instagram account. Among the tantalizing photos: Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate Syrup, the staple ingredient in egg creams. Ba-Tampte deli mustard. The interior of a cinnamon babka. A short video of raw bagels being coated in “everything” seeds.

The couple behind the new Santa Rosa Jewish deli, over a year in the making, were building anticipation and targeting March 20 as the opening date. Then came the coronavirus.

On March 15, Gov. Gavin Newsom called for a shutdown of nonessential businesses in the state, such as bars and wineries. On March 16, Bay Area residents in most counties were told to begin “sheltering in place,” starting at midnight, through April 7. Only essential businesses such as supermarkets and pharmacies would remain open; restaurants were to serve only takeout or delivery.

Restaurants everywhere are grappling with how to survive — and take care of their employees — in this sudden new reality. While the CDC has said the virus is not transmitted through food, it can live on shared surfaces like doorknobs and tables and be transmitted through touch and through group interaction.

“We’re taking it one hour at a time,” said Grossman’s owner Terri Stark, who owns several other restaurants in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg with her husband, Mark. She said in the meantime, they are planning to do takeout and delivery.

The last time J. spoke to Stark was six months after she and her husband had lost their first restaurant, Willi’s Wine Bar, in the 2017 Tubbs Fire.

“It’s hard to believe,” she said this week. “In the last three years, we’ve had one thing after another, and they’ve been hugely impactful for the restaurant business.”

Saul’s Deli in Berkeley and Solomon’s Delicatessen in Sacramento already decided to shutter their dining rooms, and Che Fico, the Italian restaurant in San Francisco with a Jewish section on the menu, has closed preemptively as well.

Nayfeld with arms crossed, standing in his kitchen
Chef David Nayfeld in his kitchen at Che Fico (Photo/Christopher Michel)

Karen Adelman, who owns Saul’s with Peter Levitt, said it was a heartbreaking decision. “We’re trying to do the right thing for our hourly and key employees who face severe hurdles feeding and housing themselves and their families,” she said. Business was down 40 percent even before this week’s order, and painful layoffs had to happen, she said.

Over the years, many people have come to Saul’s on the second night of Passover and held their own seders, but that fun tradition won’t be happening this year.

“Our role in Berkeley is nourishing people with food and space to talk and hang out with each other, but that’s not what we can do right now,” said Adelman, who noted that the Bay Area’s restaurant scene — and the entire industry — will not look the same after this is over.

AL’s Deli, which opened in San Francisco eight months ago and offered a combination of Israeli street food and Jewish deli, was the first restaurant with Jewish ties to succumb to the pandemic, as much of its business came from tech companies.

The owners of Solomon’s had already reduced their hours, but after the governor’s press conference, they decided to shut down operations altogether. Solomon’s has been open less than a year.

Partner Jami Goldstene said she has been looking into loans to help take care of Solomon’s employees.

“It’s not like they can go out and get a job somewhere else right now,” she said.

The entrance to Solomon's Deli in Sacramento (Photo/Kelly Sousa)
The entrance to Solomon’s Deli in Sacramento (Photo/Kelly Sousa)

Goldstene has poured her heart and soul into the deli, which took much longer to open than anticipated. She has also been its public face, showing up nearly every day since it opened. She told J. that because she is one month away from turning 65, she had to make the difficult decision to stay home for now, following CDC recommendations.

“I’m devastated,” she said.

David Nayfeld, chef and partner of Che Fico, wrote on Instagram that the decision to close was based on feedback from staff. As hard as they tried to make more space between tables and constantly clean surfaces, “there has been a pretty overwhelming amount of feedback that they would feel more safe if they didn’t need to come to work,” he wrote. “They are our most important shareholders in this business and we must stand by them.” He also wrote that they would be offering takeout at sister restaurant Che Fico Alimentari.

Many of the owners and chefs J. spoke with said customers can continue supporting their businesses by ordering takeout and buying gift cards for future use.

Restaurants are not the only food industry struggling to weather the crisis. Caterers and event companies have been hit just as hard. Richmond-based Anaviv Catering, owned by Israeli chef Arnon Oren, is offering wood-fired pizza on Sundays for pickup, meals for delivery and personal chef services on its website.

Aliza Grayevsky Somekh, an Israeli chef based in Oakland who was profiled in J. a few months ago, had a calendar full of events this month and next, all of which have been canceled. That includes the community seder at Oakland’s Temple Beth Abraham. She has depended on that income for the past several years.

She hopes that by offering kosher-for-Passover food for delivery in the East Bay and other areas, she can help serve those who are alone or who can’t go to the supermarket. (Orders must be placed on her website by April 1.)

After Passover, she will continue to offer kosher meals for delivery. “This has wiped me out completely,” she said. “I went from being full for March and April to having no money coming in. I’m trying to be creative, but if this continues and people won’t order takeout, I’ll need to figure out what else I can do.”

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."