Don’t dilly-deli: Bodega that staged ‘artisanal makeover’ to fight rent hike is closing Monday

Boerum Hill deli re-brands as artisanal emporium to protest rent hike

They can make heroes — just for four days.

A beloved Boerum Hill bodega famous for protesting its skyrocketing rent with wacky publicity stunts that lampooned the neighborhood’s gentrification will close on Monday, after its owner says he grew tired of trying to stave off eviction in court and threw in the dish towel.

“We bought ourselves a year in court and just gave up,” said Mohamad Itayim of Jesse’s Deli on Atlantic Avenue and Bond Street. “It’s too hard to run a business without knowing when you’re going to get kicked out.”

The 33-year-old neighborhood institution first made headlines in June last year when it held a tongue-in-cheek “artisanal rent price-hike sale” — rebranding Slim Jims as $5.99 “house-cured salami tubes” and Goya Sazon sauce as $18 “Oaxacan sea salt taco rub” — to highlight the prices Itayim said he and his parents would need to charge after their landlord hiked the rent from $4,000 a month to $10,000.

They were was back at it in September, jokingly listing the deli’s front window on rental website Airbnb as a ”semi-private room” with amenities including a “luxurious walk-in refrigerator” and “chef-style kitchen with professional toaster, meat slicer, and microwave.”

The stunts — executed with the help of two advertising pros who are fans the store — generated plenty of media attention, but didn’t change the landlord’s mind, and the deli’s effort to challenge her in court eventually petered out.

The corner store’s grocery shelves are now mostly bare, but Itayim is still churning out the loaded sandwiches that have kept customers coming back for more than three decades.

Devastated patrons say they’ll now have to find a substitute sub-slinger — and a new coffee shop.

“I was pretty sad when I found out they were closing” said Eric Gross, who works at a nearby nursing home and has been coming to Jesse’s for three years. “They have the best coffee around, I don’t know what I’m going to do now.”

But Itayim says he’s trying to stay positive and spend the last few days remembering all of the happy memories and great friends he has made working at the family business for the past 15 years.

“There’s a lot of sadness, we’ve seen some people shedding some tears, but we’re trying to go out on a good note,” he said. “You get really friendly with people when you see them everyday, sometimes more than your own family.”

Go grab one last hero at Jesse’s Deli [402 Atlantic Ave. at Bond Street, (718) 923-6008].

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill