Owner of famed sandwich shop says S.F. is so broken it needs Batman

The Deli Board’s Adam Mesnick is sick and tired of SoMa crime

Adam Mesnick thought he’d seen it all.

Running a popular deli South of Market, he’s sold a lot of sandwiches. He’s also been robbed, mugged and chased around Folsom Street by a deranged man wielding a metal fence post.

So Mesnick wasn’t too surprised when he arrived for work Thursday morning to see his beloved Deli Board had been broken into. The thieves had cut the lock on his fence, smashed a window and gained entrance pretty easily, the security cameras showed. They walked out with his cash register, his Square payment device, five laptops and a prized turntable that used to spin vinyl for the regulars.

“I was actually in the back, getting ready to open,” said Mesnick, 47. “My homeless friend was in the front, cleaning up. I give him a couple of bucks every couple of days. He came around back and said, ‘Dude, you have to see the front.’”

“I went to the front, my door was broken and my glass was broken. The police were here already. They came and did their investigation and gave me a case number. But there’s not much to be done.”

Mesnick would know. He’s been a small business advocate and community activist for years. He’s talked to all the politicians he can. He’s gone to the small business advisory meetings. He’s trained on how to deal with the homeless and drug addicted who suffer in his neighborhood. But none of it has made much difference.

“It’s just completely out of control,” said Mesnick. “They were here for about 12 minutes. … I don’t think it’s organized crime. They knew they were coming to break in and they were good at what they do … with no consequences, even if you get caught. That’s the real problem. It’s transferred into a green light for people to do whatever they feel like.”

Mesnick’s painfully ordinary robbery comes at a time when San Francisco is wrestling for its soul. The City is in a dire predicament, with a raging fentanyl and methamphetamine epidemic killing hundreds every year. The homeless problem seems worse than ever. And our politicians and law enforcement officials are unable to corral the problems, instead bickering over policy decisions, enforcement definitions and philosophical positioning.

To be fair, the San Francisco Police Department is overwhelmed. They face a shortage of officers and just put in for a budget amendment this week to pay for more officers. They say crime stats are stable in The City. But it’s hard to ignore the word on the street.

All the while, the bodies are stacking up in our streets. And small business owners, along with neighboring residents, feel unheard. It’s dangerous in San Francisco. That’s just the truth.

“All the neighbors came by saying they got robbed,” said Mesnick, relaying what happened after the word got out about Deli Board. “It’s absolutely mayhem. People climbing over walls, using welding equipment. Then you see all (your neighbors’) stuff in the encampments. It’s very frustrating.”

“My business is here. My customers are here. I’m not running away. But I’m going to make a stink about this.”

A group of thieves broke into the Deli Board sandwich shop on Thursday and stole the cash register, a Square payment device, five laptops and a turntable. (Adam Mesnick)

A group of thieves broke into the Deli Board sandwich shop on Thursday and stole the cash register, a Square payment device, five laptops and a turntable. (Adam Mesnick)

It wouldn’t be the first time. Mesnick has become a bit of a cause célèbre among frustrated business people in San Francisco. He’s been a voice of frustration and common sense, appearing at public meetings and asking for help from his District 6 representatives, a job currently held by Supervisor Matt Haney.

We were first introduced as fellow Cleveland natives years ago. I watched as Mesnick’s business grew into a tech worker hot spot. And I visited him during the darkest days of the pandemic, when he was sitting out front of his restaurant wearing a bandana across his mouth like some kind of pandemic pirate. He was the only guy out there. The City felt like it was abandoned.

When Mesnick posted a Twitter video about Thursday’s robbery, I called him up to see if he was OK.

“It’s been a rough coupla years,” said Mesnick. “Supply chain issues and COVID. It’s been constant challenges in the front of the house, with drug addicts, people roaming the streets and mental health challenges. These challenges are deep. I have to scale back and think about what’s next for me. Do I want to stay? There’s only so much a business can tolerate.”

This from a lifelong Democrat who is opposed to heavy-handed policing and incarceration. He believes in social justice, social services and recovery. He doesn’t think the answer lies in cracking heads. He takes pride in feeding his customers high-quality food and providing jobs to his workers. Perhaps that’s been his biggest stress during COVID. Keeping food on the table, both at his restaurant and the kitchen tables of his workers.

It’s no wonder the man is considering his options. About six months ago, a mentally unstable man walked into his deli and ripped off a piece of the security gate. The same gate that was busted again in Thursday’s breakdown. He took a piece of the metal grating, which weighed about 12 pounds, and started chasing Mesnick around the neighborhood.

The police came and arrested the man, but he was out on the street again in a few days. Mesnick has been in touch with District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s office about the case numerous times with no progress. Mesnick says the assailant has been arrested multiple times since his attack, and that the DA’s office often tells him the accused is undergoing mental evaluation.

“He gets arrested and doesn’t show up for court,” said Mesnick. “Until the next time they arrest him.”

It’s that kind of runaround that has to make you think. If this city can’t prosecute simple assault and battery, what chance do we have to make a dent in the much larger societal issues facing us?

Just last week, Haney came to The Examiner’s offices for an editorial meeting assessing his run for the state Assembly. The supervisor lives in the Tenderloin and says all the right things. It was clear to me that he cares deeply about the issues and the disaster going on in his district. But is there anything he can really do? Can San Francisco save itself from what looks to be an intractable problem?

Mesnick is losing hope.

“The moral of the story is, there’s zero protections for someone like me,” he said. “I live in District 6 and have watched the Tenderloin and SoMa fall apart. This neighborhood has been completely upended. It has been for years. It has become an out-of-control, crime-ridden place that needs … Batman? What could possibly help? It’s a joke at this point.”

asaracevic@sfexaminer.com

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