Your Bernalwood editor recently received some troubling reports that the venerable and much-loved Deli Pub sandwich shop on Cortland at Bocana had closed down. We heard rumors of a violent robbery at the Deli Pub, but our sources on Cortland were unable to confirm any details.
Bernal neighbor and celebrity journalist Tim Redmond heard those rumors too, and he graciously offered to investigate the story… and share his fond memories of a Bernal Heights institution. Tim writes:
I got a little nervous two weeks ago when I walked past the Deli Pub, my favorite sandwich shop ever, and saw that the doors were closed. That was odd: Imad, the proprietor and sandwich maker, was always there: Seven days a week, pretty much 365 days a year, he’s hanging out in the shop, chatting with his friends, serving Middle Eastern Plates and Turkey on a baguette to the small but loyal stream of customers.
My kids grew up at Imad’s, much as they grew up at the Bernal Playground and Progressive Grounds; these were the places we hung out. Michael and Vivian played Imad’s piano, and sometimes, when he wasn’t too busy (well, much of the time – he was never too busy) he’d pull down his drums and play along.
The Deli Pub couldn’t be closed, I figured. He must be taking a vacation.
But no – as the days passed, and I walked by the door, I started to see dead leaves on the table tops, and I realized something was very wrong.
Imad loved his plants. When I first discovered the place 18 years ago, the ficus trees were fairly small; by this summer, they covered every window and much of the interior space and were threatening to squeeze the customers out. But they never got cut back, and the forest-like atmosphere was part of the charm.
So if the trees were dying, the Deli Pub was in trouble.
And, indeed, word on the street is that Imad has retired. I haven’t been able to reach him, but I’m told he decided to call it a day (or a quarter-century) after a frightening robbery in October.
According to SFPD Public Affairs Officer Wilson Ng, three suspects entered the Deli Pub Oct. 10, at 7:42 pm. One of them told Imad he had a gun, and forced my old friend and neighborhood icon to lie on the floor while the looted the register. There was nobody else in the shop, but witnesses on the street described one Asian man and two of unknown race leaving the scene. There have been no arrests.
Imad (of course) had no security cameras. He barely had a stove – the burner he used to head his sandwiches and make his hot peanuts looked like it had been through several wars. But he managed to make great food, and he was always happy to share; when my kids and I came for lunch, he’d offer us whatever specialty he was working on that day. When Michael was born, he sent me home with a big plate of humus, tomatoes, and olives for Jean; he did the same thing later when Vivian joined the family.
So now, apparently, the Deli Pub – a part of us, a part of our community – is gone. I will miss it, terribly. And Imad, if you’re out there reading this, please hold a goodbye party; everyone I know will come.
PHOTOS: Leonard Znao via Google+