Saul’s Deli, a North Berkeley institution, has been under the ownership of Peter Levitt and Karen Adelman since 1995; that era is ending soon.
The owners are selling Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen on Shattuck Avenue, and they broke the news on a notice posted at the storefront on Thursday.
“It is with a mix of excitement and sadness that we announce that Saul’s is changing ownership,” the notice reads. “The new owner will introduce himself soon.”
Saul’s opened at 1475 Shattuck Ave. in 1986. Levitt and Adelman, who started at the restaurant as, respectively, line cook and waitress, purchased the business in 1995. Levitt is a Chez Panisse alumnus, and the menu the pair created hints at that heritage. The wide selection of Jewish deli staples, including pastrami sandwiches, matzo ball soup and knishes, are made with local ingredients. That unique combination draws a loyal customer base, including Berkeley’s notable food connoisseur Michael Pollan, and consistent crowds on the weekends. Its commitment to sustainable and organic sourcing rather than the traditional Jewish deli methods has also, it should be noted, prompted die-hards to kvetch, and led to Levitt calling, in 2010, for a “referendum on the deli menu.”
But “Saul’s is staying Saul’s,” the notice on the storefront claims. The new owner, Levitt wrote in an email to Berkeleyside, plans to maintain the restaurant’s current menu, flavors and team. (Levitt declined to name the new owner, saying that he will be introducing himself to the public in March when the ABC permit transfers to him.)
Tauna Sparks, a manager who has worked at Saul’s for nine years, said she has faith that the food and staff will remain the same at Saul’s.
“Peter and Karen have fostered a staff here that really makes Saul’s what it is and that’s their belief too,” she said. “It’s just, you know, [a] new owner.”
In 2016, when news circulated that Levitt and Adelman were searching for a buyer for Saul’s, locals expressed shock and disappointment, including on social media. At the time, the co-owners — who were previously married but didn’t have children who might have inherited the business — assured the public that they were committed to finding a buyer who would run the restaurant as is and for many years to come.
“They had courted a few people, but none of them were a good fit and so they didn’t go through with it,” Sparks said. While she acknowledges change is hard, Sparks said she trusts Levitt and Adelman’s judgment and is confident the transition will be a smooth one.
Levitt said he and Adelman will facilitate the transition to the new owner — listed on the application for change of ownership as Homa Enterprises — at least through May, including by meeting with each Saul’s employee one-on-one. Sparks said Levitt began having conversations with employees on Thursday night.
As for why they’re selling, the note on the door addresses the question: “We have enjoyed this project with all of our hearts and souls. But life is short, and it is a great big world, and there are things that must be done. We came in as young whippersnappers and we are leaving, well, definitely not as whippersnappers.”
Looking ahead, Levitt and Adelman said they plan to pursue other experiences and interests.
“I have smoked and sliced a lot of meat these last 25 years,” Levitt said to Berkeleyside. “I hope to spend the next 25 years in a different setting, hopefully loving a new entrepreneurial adventure.”
In the near future, for Levitt, that looks like riding his motorcycle through India to deepen his understanding of what he dubbed “that amazing meatless cuisine.”
Adelman wants to write, according to Levitt.
The sign pinned to Saul’s storefront expresses gratitude for the restaurant’s community:
“It is difficult to even begin to express the depth of our appreciation for the friends and loyal supporters who have eaten, gathered, and marked their occasions and generations here,” it reads. “We will also always be connected to, and hold the deepest gratitude for, the many folks who have worked here for long and short stays through the years.”
The notice closes by asking the Berkeley populace to “please support this community and help them to evolve.”