Saul’s Deli, a 36-year-old Berkeley institution, has been sold

They all owned Saul’s! (Clockwise from left) David Rosenthal, Peter Levitt, Sam Tobis, Jesus “Chuy” Mendoza, Karen Adelman and Andra Lichtenstein. Credit” Daniil Vishnevskiy

Restaurant and delicatessen Saul
1475 Shattuck Avenue (near Vine Street), Berkeley

It’s well known that Peter Levitt and Karen Adelman, co-owners of Berkeley institution Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen for 26 years, have been trying to sell the business since 2016. They nearly found a buyer in early 2020, in fact, but the pandemic insecurities thwarted the sale. But now they’re ready to share what Saul regulars might have guessed for months now: Two new partners have been named to the restaurant, and will eventually take full ownership of it in the years to come.

The new partners are Saul’s longtime chef, Jesus “Chuy” Mendoza, and Sam Tobis, owner of the great Oakland bakery since 2017. But “it’s not a super clean cut, like, here’s your money , goodbye,” Adelman said.

“Sam has made it clear he wants to come and learn from us and meet our regular customers through us,” so Levitt and Adelman will remain with the business for now, just in a reduced capacity. Both are in their early 60s and their goal is to gradually transfer full ownership to the new partners, likely over the next few years.

“Chuy and I compliment each other, so I can focus more on the things that I do well,” Tobis said, describing the Saul family as “a solid core of people who have worked here for years.”

Mendoza added: “We are a really strong team. I am excited and happy to be part of the future of this great restaurant.

One of the reasons it took so long to find a buyer for Saul’s, Adelman and Levitt said, is because they couldn’t sell Saul’s to just anyone. Instead, they sought out new owners who understand the restaurant’s unique role not only as a longstanding and popular restaurant, but also as a Jewish gathering place.

Saul’s co-owner Peter Levitt shows off the restaurant’s homemade bagels. July 17, 2020. Credit: Pete Rosos

Before Saul’s became Saul’s, it opened as a lunch counter called the Pantry Shelf in 1955. It was not a deli per se, although there was “deli” in large letters above out the door and selling deli sandwiches with burgers.

A few decades later, David Rosenthal bought the company and renamed it Rosenthal’s. This lasted until 1986, when Andra Lichtenstein set up a partnership to buy the charcuterie, naming it after her father, Saul Lichtenstein. Rosenthal and Lichtenstein are still regulars at the restaurant today.

Adelman started as a waiter at Saul’s in 1989, and Levitt became a chef there in 1995 after spending time in the kitchens of Chez Panisse and Oliveto. They bought Saul’s together in 1996 and have co-managed it ever since.

They are confident they have found the right people to carry forward Saul’s legacy.

“The new energy out there is exciting,” Adelman said. “Both care deeply about the philosophy and spirit of the place. Chuy has worked with our employees for so long that people work very hard for him, and he and Peter are very close. Sam is really smart and has almost no ego, which is rare in the restaurant industry. It is a project they are passionate about and not just a job.

Ten years ago, when Mendoza started working at Saul, he didn’t know the kitchen, Adelman said. But like Levitt, who also didn’t grow up on traditional Jewish charcuterie (he’s from Johannesburg, South Africa), he’s learned a huge amount about the dishes since then, eating all the charcuterie he can when he traveling and reading whatever he can get. hands on it.

Tobis, originally from New York, came to the area to attend Cal and never left. (His parents and sister have since joined him here.) He met Levitt in 2017 after taking over Grand Bakery, a longtime Saul vendor that sold his baked goods at the grocery store.

The Saul’s Deli space (seen here from above) began as the Pantry Shelf, and later became known as Rosenthal’s. 1 credit

Levitt then made it known he was looking for a buyer, but Tobis declined the opening, saying he had enough on his plate. But his interest in charcuterie has grown over time, and since last November he’s been a notable presence at Saul’s, learning the ropes, while Mendoza continues to run his estate, the very kitchen he’s worked in for over 10 years old.

Tobis said Levitt had a huge influence on how he ran Grand Bakery. For example, he switched to using organic and heirloom flour for Grand’s baked goods.

“Peter came to the heart of the California food movement, and I think he’s one of the most underrated butchers in the country,” Tobis said. “Saul’s is East Coast and Eastern Europe meets Middle East, from cozy shtetl fare to home-made falafel and pita every day. This cross-pollination of Diaspora Jewish food is simply fabulous.

The only thing Tobis hopes to change is the bakery program at Saul.

Grand Bakery’s cooking is parve (meaning no butter can be used), but Tobis has brought a lot of general baking expertise to Saul’s, which doesn’t limit its menu to kosher dishes. He also hired a new baker and transformed part of Saul’s office into a new bakery space.

Traditional products, such as babka, rugelach, and black-and-white cookies, have improved over previous iterations, and new items have been added, such as tahini cookies. (Saul once made his own bagels and pita in-house.)

Sam Tobis at work at Grand Bakery Courtesy of Sam Tobis

Although he owns two East Bay Jewish food businesses, Tobis said each was distinct and would remain so.

“I am very excited to continue the legacy, culture and dining experience that Karen and Peter have cultivated,” he said. “Grand Bakery will retain its own kosher identity and experience.”

For their part, Levitt and Adelman couldn’t be happier with the arrangement, which allows flexibility in their schedules for the first time in decades. For example, Levitt recently traveled to Poland to volunteer with World Central Kitchen, cooking for Ukrainian refugees for two weeks in May, then staying in Berlin and traveling, knowing Saul was in good hands. He’s been out for four months, which until recently would have been unthinkable.

“Peter doesn’t want to be the guy who does it anymore, but his curiosity and talent will always be part of Saul’s,” Adelman said.

Adelman is happy to continue doing social media, graphics, and other stuff for now, while taking her time to figure out what’s next.

“It’s hard to know who I am without Saul because I’ve been here so long,” Adelman said. “People see me and they’re suddenly hungry.”

A version of this story first appeared on J., the Jewish News of Northern California. Reprinted with permission.

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