Four months after opening and quickly becoming a beloved spot for traditional New York-style deli sandwiches, the Pastrami Joint in Little Haiti has closed. The eatery’s owners cite issues with its landlord, the co-working property 360 Spaces.
The sandwich spot was initially supposed to share the space, its rent, and profits with a poke restaurant that never materialized. Soon the building’s owner demanded the Pastrami Joint cover the rent in full, says Lisa Olek, who, along with her husband Steven, started the eatery.
After New Times published an article about the restaurant’s permanent Miami location, the landlord began demanding 25 percent of the business, Lisa adds.
“The place couldn’t pass inspection,” Steve says. “They promised there was a grease trap. There was no grease trap, and I would’ve had to pay for it, but I wasn’t willing to do it because they didn’t give us the adjacent space for our kitchen.”
360 Spaces didn’t immediately respond to New Times‘ calls and emails.
In the meantime, the delay hasn’t seemed to slow the partners, and they’re planning to dish out sandwiches at two Broward County events this week: Food in Motion at Peter Feldman Park in Fort Lauderdale Friday, July 12, and Dania After Dark street food festival Saturday, July 13.
Though a disappointment, such hardship is nothing new for the Oleks, who got into slinging brisket, pastrami, corned beef, and smoked turkey in 2015 after a thief cleaned out their jewelry store, leaving them with nothing other than the opportunity to pursue what had been Steve’s lifelong passion. He grew up in Canarsie, Brooklyn, and began working in the now-shuttered iconic neighborhood deli Grabstein’s when he was 15.
Throughout the years, he’d bring out his smoked meats for holidays and family gatherings, but it would be years before he ever considered selling it.
He and Lisa’s big break came when they snagged a spot at Hollywood’s Yellow Green Farmers Market and soon become so successful they found themselves dishing out more than 200 pounds of brisket each weekend.
“We were so broke we had to go buy old refrigerators, whatever we could to keep up,” Lisa says.
The Pastrami Joint’s unexpected closing is another wrinkle in Miami’s complicated decades-long love affair with deli and Jewish food.
In the middle of the 20th Century, the city supported a vibrant cluster of them as older Jews from New York migrated south. Places such as Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House in Sunny Isles Beach, Pumpernik’s on 67th Street in Miami Beach, and Corky’s in North Miami Beach buzzed with activity.
But as Jews passed away or moved north to cities such as Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton, the scene faded. In recent years, chefs and cooks took up the deli mantle likely because, at its core, it offers simple, technique-driven fare. Yet the efforts have met with varied success.
Zak Stern’s deli in his original bakery space shuttered about a year after opening while Hank & Harry’s, which quickly opened locations across Miami, quickly shuttered last summer. A few months after the Pastrami Joint opened, Hialeah saw the long awaited re-emergence of the iconic Stephen’s Deli under the ownership of Matt Kuscher with its original chef Henderson “Junior” Biggers still overseeing the kitchen as he’s done for the past six decades.
Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
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