Good bye Klein's Deli

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By Tim Redmond
I’ve been buying turkey sandwiches at Klein's Deli on Potrero Hill for more than 20 years. Back in the early 1980s, when the Guardian was in an old building on 19th and York, and the old Best Foods factory was still spewing fumes or mayonnaise wind over the neighborhood and there weren’t many places around to get food, we used to pile into somebody’s car and drive to 20th and Connecticut, where a former Guardian distribution manager named Deborah Klein was making great sandwiches. Then our part of the Mission started booming, and you didn’t need to drive to get lunch, and my Klein’s habit faded.
By the time the Guardian moved to Potrero Hill, Deborah had sold out to one of her employees, Avery McGinn, but the place was just the same, and at least two or three times a week, I make the trek to the top of the hill. It’s one of those places that’s been around so long you just sort of assume it will always be there.
But it won’t. Next week is the last week for Klein’s Deli. The landlord, Timberly Hughes, wanted to double the rent, from $3,100 to $6,255 a month, and McGinn told me she just can’t pay that, not without raising her prices so much that none of us would be going there anymore. “She has the right to do that,” McGinn, who has been remarkably diplomatic about all of this, told me. “I twisted and turned, but it just was too much for my deli to pay.” She hasn’t been able to find another spot on the hill, so for now, it’s over.
Damn.
I called Hughes, who seems like a pleasant enough person, and she told me that the higher rent was what she needed to get, and since Klein’s won’t be there any more, she’s going to open an “organic wine bar and deli” that will be called Jay’s, after her son. She has lived on the hill for nine years – she actually occupied the apartment above the deli – and she promised to try to keep the spot as a neighborhood gathering area.
Maybe she will, and maybe the wine bar will be lovely, but it won’t be Klein’s Deli. And while McGinn is taking the high road, not everybody is being so nice. Some of the folks on the Potrero Hill Message Board are calling for a boycott of the new place. “Bad, bad, bad to destroy a neighborhood institution so you can have your vanity business,” one post says.
I dunno. Commercial landlords can raise the rent as much as they can get away with, and the California Leglislature has barred cities from enacting commercial rent controls (which, of course, would have saved Klein’s). And Hughes is not in the business of charity. But she made a choice to raise the rent to a level that a locally owned business couldn’t afford, and she’s going to have to live with that.
Klein’s is having a party Dec. 16th, from noon to 4 pm. There will be a photo booth in the place Dec. 2, from 10 am – 3 pm so locals and regulars can get their pictures taken before the doors close.
Meanwhile, you’ve got another week to go get a sandwich at a great San Francisco establishment. Enjoy it while you can.