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The Bay Area’s Top Pastrami Shop Has Closed

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A pastrami sandwich on thick, griddled rye bread, served on a faux wood plate.
The "OG" pastrami sandwich at Delirama, which announced the sudden closure of its Solano Ave. restaurant in Berkeley. (Luke Tsai/KQED)

New York has Katz’s. L.A. has Langer’s. The Bay Area, on the other hand, has never really had a true destination pastrami spot — at least not until Delirama opened its cheery Solano Avenue storefront in Berkeley two summers ago. Biting into the restaurant’s “OG” sandwich for the first time, I could imagine a future, 10 or 20 years from now, when Delirama would be exactly that: the kind of beloved neighborhood institution that out-of-towners would plan road trips around.

Now, that pastrami-scented fever dream has been put on hold, as the deli has closed, according to an announcement posted on Instagram today.

Delirama was a labor of love for Cash Caris and Anahita Cann, who started the pop-up Pyro’s Pastrami in 2020 as a vehicle for Caris’ lifelong love affair with the Jewish deli smoked meat staple. The couple opened their brick-and-mortar storefront in August of 2022, with an all-things-pastrami menu — pastrami pizza! pastrami tacos! pastrami-fat potato chips! — that drew lines around the block from day one.

A long line of customers wait outside Delirama restaurant.
In its early days, Delirama often attracted long lines during the lunch rush. (Luke Tsai/KQED)

This was a rare instance where reality lived up to hype. A pastrami sandwich at Delirama became my go-to leisurely “island day” lunch, for those rare occasions when, say, my family was out of town and I had no responsibilities to attend to. I’d snag a seat at the window and luxuriate over one of Caris’ two-handed sandwiches: thick slices of butter-griddled rye bread, a swipe of mustard and a big pile of lusciously fatty, crisp-edged pastrami.

Keeping a small restaurant afloat is always a precarious enterprise, but Delirama was pushed to the brink by a particularly disastrous turn of events: Last March, a four-day power outage caused all of the food in their walk-in fridge to spoil, including 2,000 pounds of the brisket Caris brines and smokes to make the restaurant’s pastrami. At the time, Caris told the Chronicle they’d been counting on that pastrami to generate $100,000 of revenue.

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Delirama held on for another 10 months after that, diversifying its menu with additional non-pastrami items and, more recently, rolling out a budget version of its signature pastrami sandwich bulked up by a layer of those pastrami-fat chips. In the end, it wasn’t enough.

“The truth is that what I was trying to do was impossible and the longer I did it the more apparent it became,” Caris wrote in the Instagram post announcing the closure.

A massive sandwich overflowing with pastrami and slaw.
Another view of the OG. (Luke Tsai/KQED)

Which isn’t to say that his dream of a pastrami empire is necessarily over. The deli’s planned expansion into Oakland, Delirama Jr., appears to still be on track for later this year. For now, Caris and Cann haven’t given up the Solano Avenue space either, but are instead planning to transition it into some new, non-deli restaurant concept. And who knows? In the past, Caris has said he would love to bring Delirama to San Jose, where he grew up.

What’s clear, however, is that Delirama was a successful proof of concept in at least one sense: Its popularity — along with the sizable local followings for established pastrami institutions like Saul’s in Berkeley and The Refuge on the Peninsula — showed that there’s a real hunger for high-quality pastrami in the Bay.

In the meantime, a bit of good news: Until Caris and Cann finalize their new plans for the space, the Solano Avenue spot will continue to sell fresh rye bread and pastrami by the pound, Friday through Sunday, 11 a.m.–3 p.m.

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