At the height of the last recession, Adam Mesnick ditched a career in mortgage banking to focus on crafting soups, salads and sandwiches from scratch for hungry neighbors. Today, he owns two non-traditional SoMa delicatessens: Deli Board (1058 Folsom St.) and Rye Project (180 7th St.).
With both spots celebrating anniversaries this fall (six years for Deli Board and one year for Rye Project), we sat down with the self-proclaimed “deli dude” to discuss how he got into the restaurant industry, how the changing neighborhood is impacting his businesses, and the series of evening dinner parties he’s hosting at Deli Board this month.
The Gold-n-berg-n-stein, a Deli Board favorite since the shop's early days. (Photo: Deli Board/Facebook)
From Banking To Bread
Before sandwiches, mortgage banking was Mesnick’s bread and butter. While he worked in the restaurant industry and considered going to culinary school after both high school and college, he decided against it both times, as food wasn’t glamorized in the '90s the way it is now, he said.
But his day job and ample free time left him with plenty of opportunities to focus on his first love. Wining and dining clients was a major part of his role, and when he wasn’t at the office, you could find him working at Michael Mina’s Aqua or serving up crepes at a Valencia Street cafe, a job from which some patrons still recognize him.
By 2009, Mesnick was ready to go all-in with cooking. He completed a short sale on his home, moved into a SoMa apartment and took out a personal loan to start a catering company. In April of the following year, he and his business partner at the time bought out a commissary kitchen on Howard Street between Sixth and Seventh (where you’ll now find the Creme Brulee Cart stocking up).
Clients were biting, but Mesnick wasn’t interested in going through the training process for wholesale food-handling. So he decided to use bike messengers to test selling his sandwiches directly to consumers for a few days each week.
With the new delivery model also came a new sandwich architecture. At first, Deli Board’s menu looked much like Rye Project’s does today, offering a modern spin on Jewish favorites. But when he realized rye bread wouldn’t survive bumpy bike rides across town, he decided to switch to sandwich rolls. From there, the menu evolved to accommodate Californian tastes like ham, bacon and Dutch crunch rolls.
As more people learned about Deli Board sandwiches and began stopping by the kitchen to pick up their lunches, Mesnick began to need a real storefront. Luckily, Deli Board had a well-connected fan: John Brattesani, the founder of North Beach's 56-year-old Caesar's Italian Restaurant. Brattesani had a shop on Folsom Street he no longer needed, so he let Mesnick take it over.
Photo: Brittany Hopkins/Hoodline
The Threat of Change South of Market
With three years left on Deli Board’s lease and Rye Project already outgrowing its petite location a few blocks away, the neighborhood’s evolution is top-of-mind for Mesnick, who also resides in SoMa.
Growth in the area has been insane, he said, but the neighborhood is still a little gritty. There’s certainly more traffic on Folsom Street, which he believes will soon become the “heart of SoMa” and resemble the Mission’s Valencia Street.
Mesnick's fear is that without tax incentives for small businesses, the changing neighborhood will push him and other mom-and-pop shops out. Mesnick has considered combining Deli Board and Rye Project in one larger location, but the market for restaurant space is currently overrun, he said. And thanks to rapidly rising rents and close proximity to the Financial District, SoMa could become home to more chain restaurants with deep pockets—“eliminating me from being anywhere,” he said.
Deli Board Nights
For now, Mesnick is playing with the idea of extending Deli Board’s hours with the launch of Deli Board Nights, a series of evening events featuring crowd-pleasing specials from the past few years.
The first event, to be held this Thursday from 6-9pm, will feature his take on a cheesesteak, which was a hit at the shop’s spring pop-up. In addition to the cheesesteak, the entire menu will be available, and diners are welcome to bring their own beer.
The Board Cheesesteak. (Photo: Jesse P./Yelp)
Friday, Sept. 18th is Fat Boy Burrito night, featuring Deli Board’s take on burritos, nachos and traditional tacos. The following Thursday and Friday will be Gyro Night (think Greek salads and gyro platters) and Newish night (grilled rye sandwiches and other favorites from the Rye Project menu), respectively.
For those who'd like to see Deli Board keep its doors open for dinner on a regular basis, Mesnick encourages making a visit to one of the nighttime events, which he'll use as an indicator for whether demand is strong enough to make it happen.
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