"It obviously isn't what I wanted to happen when I took over the deli in 2017," wrote owner Kyle Vogel, who reopened the deli at 1453 Woodside Road last fall after a nine-month remodel. "But the reality of being in Redwood City in 2019 is unavoidable."
Woodside Deli is closing after six decades in Redwood City. Photo by Elena Kadvany.
That reality — ever-rising cost of living, a labor shortage, competition with tech companies and chains — is leading to more and more closures of locally owned food businesses throughout the Bay Area.
Woodside Deli's lease expires on Sept. 30. Vogel’s landlord proposed a 52% increase, which was the straw that broke the camel's back, he said in an interview. He's already shouldering rising healthcare costs (Woodside Deli provides insurance for full-time employees) and difficulty finding staff. He said only three employees out of dozens he's hired since taking over the deli in 2017 are still working there, and staff often have left due to the high cost of housing in the area. If one or two employees are out on a busy day, the deli feels it — and "when we become systemically down one and down two it's just untenable," Vogel said.
Signing onto a new lease in this "ecosystem" didn’t feel worth the risk, he said.
"It's not going to get better. That's the realization that I came to," he said. "There's not a problem that can be fixed. This is a dilemma … a problem has a solution. A dilemma — this is just the color of water."
He said he didn't try to negotiate a lower rent increase given the other pressures facing his business. He declined to disclose his monthly rate and the proposed rent hike.
"Is it the issue of a 52% rent increase? Sure, but at the same time that's a symptom of just what's going on in Redwood City these days," he said.
Vogel took over the deli when the original owner, Dan Galinetti, retired. Galinetti opened Woodside Deli in 1958. The deli has long made sausage, deli meats, ravioli and prepared foods in house, as well as sold imported Italian products. A longtime customer favorite is the "Godfather" sandwich, a sourdough roll stuffed with mortadella, salami, prosciutto, coppa, provolone, red wine vinegar, olive oil, oregano, pepperoncini, artichoke hearts, lettuce and onions.
Vogel plans to stay open until all of the existing stock is sold. The last day of business will be sometime in October.
Customers, some who have been eating Woodside Deli's sandwiches since they were children, flooded the shop today, Vogel said. He turned off all of the third-party delivery apps the deli is on as well as its own online ordering system.
"Today wasn't about efficiency," he said. "Today we went old school and pulled numbers and helped people one at a time."
Facebook comments lamenting the closure and the changing nature of Redwood City quickly poured in, thanking the deli and its owners for decades of sandwiches and memories. One poster offered to start a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to keep the deli open.
Vogel said the mayor of Redwood City saw his Facebook post and sent Economic Development Manager Don Burrus to the deli to offer the city's help. Vogel appreciated the gesture but is unsure what the city could do given the complexity of the pressures facing local, small businesses in this area. (He did suggest to me the possibility of rent control or providing housing for staff.)
"This is what the city has come to, the area," Vogel said. "We're not the first. We are not likely the last."