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

The Brooklyn Paper
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The owners of an imperiled Boerum Hill deli have staged an “artisanal takeover” of their 25-year-old corner store, re-branding products with yuppified names and jacking up prices to illustrate the kind of shop that could afford the 250-percent rent hike they say the store’s landlord is demanding.

Tongue-in-cheek posters advertising a “landlord price hike sale” at Jesse’s Deli, on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Bond Street, show what neighbors can expect to pay if a new store hopes to cover the inflated rent, said one worker.

“That’s how much stuff is going to have to cost,” said Abed Hussein, who has worked at the shop for eight years. “It’s easy to get a lease, but not so easy to get people to buy stuff that expensive.”

The store re-branded packets of Goya Sazon sauce as “Oaxacan Sea Salt Taco Rub” — yours for just $18! — Slim Jims as “Hand-Cured Salami Tubes” — a steal at $5.99 a pop — and Raid as $15.99 “Artisanal Roach Bombs.”

The stunt — inside the products and prices have not actually changed — is a protest against landlord Karina Bilger’s plan to jack up the rent by two-and-a-half times the current rate, said Mohamad Itayim, son of eponymous founder Jesse Itayim. The store is currently paying $4,000 a month, and Bilger plans to raise that to $10,000 when the store’s lease expires at the end of July, he said.

Advertising pros and Jesse’s regulars Tommy Noonan and Douglas Cameron said they came up with the concept and constructed the posters after they learned of the deli’s plight and wanted to use their public relations know-how to help out.

“We kinda put our heads together and decided it would get more attention if we could show how ridiculous the neighborhood is getting,” said Noonan, who lives in Carroll Gardens but frequents the deli with Cameron, who lives nearby. “There are all these different baby stores and everything has like, the word ‘Berkshire’ in it.”

The community has rallied around the shop, gathering signatures and holding a meeting last month to brainstorm ways to save their beloved bodega. The owners say they are looking for a new location, and now that they have seen how much their little store means to neighbors, it will have to be somewhere nearby.

“We didn’t know how appreciated we were until now,” said Itayim. “After all the support we got, we’re only looking in this neighborho­od.”

Rents have risen all along Atlantic Avenue, once a bastion of antique stores and inexpensive Middle Eastern food, during the past decade, as the neighborhood has changed and real estate brokers re-branded the area itself as “BoCoCa.” Itayim said he appreciates some of the transformations — for one, it is now safe to be outside after dark — but they have come at the literal expense of humble stores like Jesse’s.

“What mom and pop can afford that kind of rent?” he said.

Bilger could not be reached for comment.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018: Updated with quotes from Mohamad Itayim.
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Reasonable discourse

Mic from Williamsburg says:
They blew their chance already, like most NY native failures. Move along. Time for some smart, young whites to do their thing. Bring on the gentrification. Our moral and intellectual superiority shall prevail. Get used to it. Off to the grocery store on my unicycle now. See you at the next CB1 meeting you losers.
June 12, 2015, 4:25 pm
jjm from c. hill says:
Wow really mic? Well lets hope it'll be more muggings going on just like in w'burg, ft greene & other little clusters of whitewashed BK that target punk yuppies like you.
June 12, 2015, 6:46 pm
Pam Staples says:
If he's so angry he can just go back to the middle east, where I'm sure he'll find customers for his generic crap.

It's not like there aren't delis all over the place - he provides the same junk you can get anywhere, but served with an arrogant bit of attitude.
June 13, 2015, 6:08 am
Michael from Bay Ridge says:
I thought the customer was always right.
I'm not sure if making fun of your customers is a better idea than adjusting your selection to suit changing tastes.

People's needs and desires change - if you want to stay in business you have to be up-to-date, not get angry that people don't want the same-old same-old.
June 13, 2015, 11:33 am
K. from ArKady says:
Guy has got some definite old school Brooklyn chops. That's what is really getting lost when these places go under.
June 13, 2015, 12:54 pm
pookie da lion from slip slope says:
Hey Mic

I am putting my orders in with muggers -
June 14, 2015, 8:29 am
Phil Jackson from Bedford Stuyvesant (Formerly) says:
Now you know why it is so safe to go out at night, and it will be even safer when your beloved customers gentrify YOU out of the neighborhood. They came for the Puerto Ricans but I said nothing...
June 14, 2015, 2:28 pm
Matt from Greenpoint says:
Ah, the wonderful smell of organic waste festering in a plastic bin in the 90 degree heat!
June 14, 2015, 4:58 pm
Culprit from Gentriburg says:
June 14, 2015, 7:40 pm
Pency Nicklebuhtt says:
Despite his claims to the contrary - the chicken sandwiches are not organic. He's a smelly liar, and a surprisingly angry man.
June 15, 2015, 9:18 am
Sarah from Boerum Hill says:
Gee, Pency, looked in the mirror lately?

I really wonder how many of the seemingly endless haters that post racist/classist drivel are working for some awful company that contracts to steer message boards like this.
June 15, 2015, 11:09 am
Barry from Flatbush says:
His customers like him. They buy his products. He can't afford the 250% rent increase his landlord is demanding. The owning force out the working.
June 15, 2015, 11:23 pm
Smith Jones says:
I agree with Sarah from Boerum Hill - he should just go back to the middle east! His values are totally Taliban!
June 16, 2015, 9:38 am
A. Wyatt Man from Crown Heights says:
Gas the hipsters, 'hood wars now. :)
Sept. 26, 2015, 12:10 am

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