Owner Yakov Shteyman of Yakov's Deli is hopping mad at his landlord and his neighbors in the strip shopping center at 3925 Richmond. "They are jealous of my place; I have so many customers," he says. "The landlord doubled my rent and tells me if I don't like it, to get out in only 30 days!"
For the past eight years at the tiny storefront, Yakov and his wife have dished out voluble love and Ukrainian soul food to politicians and astronauts, Greenway Plaza businesspeople and Russian emigres, tourists and native Houstonians alike. Specialties of the house included Yakov's own monstrous Moscow sandwich, ruby-red beet borscht, and the diminutive meat-stuffed dumplings called pelmeni. "Some of my customers, they cry," says Shteyman. "Where are they going to get such good Russian food now? Maybe in New York, but not here in Houston."
Rent hikes aren't the only troubles Shteyman's weathered lately. He spent many years and a great deal of money getting his brother and his brother's family out of the dissolving Soviet Union and into Houston. When they arrived at last, he hired his niece to work in the deli and painstakingly trained her in food preparation and catering.
According to a confidante in the Russian ex-pat community, Yakov was stunned when his niece promptly defected from the deli to open her own competing Russian grocery and luncheonette, located smack in the middle of the burgeoning Russian district of North Braeswood and Chimney Rock.
Our source speculates that Yakov's niece took a sizable portion of his business, but Shteyman dismisses her with a snort. "She's sneaky, and she thought she'd be a millionaire overnight. But she has closed her place now, so that's that."
The doors of Shteyman's own surgically clean little deli closed for the last time on Saturday, November 7. Pensive customers dropped by to commiserate, nibble a few pirogi, and add their names and addresses to his mailing list. On Sunday, he moved his massive deli cases and food-prep equipment into temporary storage. "I have not enough time to find a new place," Shteyman moans.
But the unsinkable Yakov is already busy outlining the plans for a new store. "This time, I will go even bigger!" he vows. He'd like to stay inside the Loop, but, he says, "definitely not downtown." He's also considering the Galleria area, or maybe someplace farther out Richmond. Watch for his triumphant return within the next four to five months.
-- Margaret L. Briggs
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