A Sad, Sudden Farewell to the Deli Pub on Cortland




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+

22 thoughts on “A Sad, Sudden Farewell to the Deli Pub on Cortland

  1. Oh that is awful. My favorite place in Bernal Heights. Discovered it years ago when my kids needed to use the bathroom while we were waiting for the #24. We ended up staying 2 hours. Many afternoons we spent there sitting around telling stories, listening to jazz, playing drums and piano. My daughter interviewed Imad once for a school project. Last time I was in there my kids’ art was on the wall.

  2. This breaks my heart. Imad made the best hummus I’ve ever tasted, hands down. He made sure our whole family, especially my husband, was well-fed and entertained. My daughter used to feed his fish. Imad even gave me a bowl of extra-spicy nuts to induce labor when my son was 11 days past his due date. (It didn’t work, but those were some damn good nuts). We miss you, Imad, and hope to see you again soon. With love, the Kirby family.

  3. Oh no. This is horrible news. My dear friend Imad, I hope you are okay. I lived across the street for many, many years and spent a lot of time talking with Imad during those years. My heart goes out to you.

  4. This makes me sick to my stomach. I owned the Stray Bar only two doors down and Imad came in to welcome me to the neighborhood in 2006. When staff and customers ordered from his restaurant, it was a running joke when I would bring dishes back the next day…piled up from when one after another customer would see what someone ordered and then proceed to put in their order. If anyone has follow up information, or an address I can send something to Imad please email me at opp97@yahoo.com – I would most appreciative. — Karen Opp, formerly, Stray Bar owner (sadly I no longer live in the Bernal or SF area).

  5. So bummed! Imad was one of the nicest guys in the neighborhood, and hands down the best sandwich maker. You will be truly missed my friend.


  6. Oh man, his garlic pastrami sandwiches were great, and always much roasted garlic was offered to eat while waiting. I was there a couple weeks ago and talked with him about what happened, and I wished him well. I’m glad I had a chance to enjoy one last sandwich!

  7. Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!! This is sad and not knowing exactly what’s going on is troubling to say the least. Thanks to Tim for the info so far. (Love a little Bay Guardian action on here!)

    I absolutely loved stopping in there on my way back from high school in the Sunset to home in Noe Valley (okay, maybe it was a detour, but those sandwiches!) and sitting on the benches in the forested window, especially on a rainy day like today…

    I hope we can hear more soon.

  8. This is a loss of a quiet, kind, important contributor to Bernal. We did not take you or your kind energy for granted. We all hope you are ok Imad, let someone know if you need anything.

  9. I will miss my turkey club with avocado. And even more I will miss Imad who remembered my order each time I came in, always asked about my family, let my kids feed his fish and played his drums for us.

  10. This is terrible news. My husband and I love to eat lunch there Friday afternoons and chat with Imad. He makes the meanest turkey club in the city!

  11. This is hard to believe, I know nothing lasts forever but I always worried about the day this would happen. Truly the end of an era for Bernal Heights.

  12. Dunno what happened to the comment I tried to post here. Trying again …

    Imad has been very nice to my family, especially the little one. We’ve enjoyed his hospitality, and the oasis of quiet greenness that is his shop. Imad, if you’re reading this, thank you for everything, and I wish you good luck in the next chapter of your life.

  13. This breaks my heart. When we moved into the neighborhood 2 years ago the first place we ate at was the Deli Pub because we can see it from our apartment window and our daughter loves grilled cheese sandwiches. Imad was so friendly and we ended up staying and talking to him for awhile as he gave us a breakdown of the neighborhood.

    Over the last 2 years we’ve become friends with him and he’s been so fantastic with our daughter despite her multiple disabilities. While others treat her “special” or “strange” he’s embraced her and always plays music with her when she comes in. He even has a cute little nickname for her and made a promise that every time she came in he would have a chocolate treat for her. He never disappointed.

    His sandwiches were great but his sweet personality was even better. We’ll miss you friend.
    Mark, Iolani and I hope you are okay.

  14. My family moved into the neighborhood less than a year ago. We loved Imad’s sandwiches and our friendly chats. He promised to play the drums for our infant son when he got old enough. I hope that it is not true that he plans to close. We will truly miss his enchanting cafe, the uplifting jazz and conversation, and delicious veggie subs. The Deli Pub is one of a kind.

  15. That is so, so sad. Imad, I hope you’re reading this and feeling all the love we have for you and how much you’ve meant to the neighborhood. I’m going to miss talking philosophy with you, finding swirls of jasmine on your countertop, enjoying the best tuna melts ever made, grading papers in the sunny window or on your big comfy couch among the happy, happy trees and plants. I’m so sorry you had to go through that terrible experience; knowing what a gentle and kind person you are makes it impossible to imagine. Please let us know how we can support you and thank you for all you’ve given us.

  16. Pingback: Deli Pub Clean-Out Leaves a Bocana-Sized Mess | Bernalwood

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s