SF mainstay Lee's Deli shops close its doors for good

Lee's Deli, a mainstay for diners looking for cheap eats in San Francisco's Financial District, has closed its doors for good. People in the area say the closure is a troubling sign for an area that still struggles in the post-pandemic era.

At one time there were a dozen Lee's Deli shops dotted the area in and around FiDi and South of Market. But owner Lee Quan says a combination of COVID, high minimum wage costs, street conditions, theft and the lack of people returning to the downtown all worked together to force him to close them all down.

Workers in FiDi say they will miss the signature deli and inexpensive eats. 

"I work over at 211 Main on the other side of Market, and I'm over here, just walking around to see what's available in the broader vicinity that isn't $20 to eat lunch," said John Feske.

Those working in the area say it's part of a trend of closures that has left one vacant storefront after another, leaving them with few options, and the options that are still here aren't cheap. 

"I just spent $29 on a sandwich and soup," said Judi Goodspeed.

Rodney Fong from San Francisco's Chamber of Commerce was a former Lee's Deli customer himself and says rents are already being pushed down, now the city needs to act to preserve businesses in FiDi and make it easier to start new businesses. 

"Permitting, getting out of the way of letting businesses streamline their businesses," said Fong. "Lifting some of the taxes, we're a heavily burdened city for tax. So, lifting that opportunity. Giving people incentive to be downtown."

San Francisco's Office of Economic and Workforce Development says the city is working to transform the area, to activate the space and bring people here at all hours, not just the typical 9 to 5.

Vandor Hill says the city helped him to open Whack Donuts at Fourth Embarcadero. He says he'd welcome more events in the nearby plaza. 

"I'd like to see stuff happening Monday through Saturday, let's have events here," said Hill. "You know, it could be a range. Have live music, live functions, dance events."

But for now, he says he and other nearby businesses need help to survive. 

"There should be more incentives for small businesses," said Hill. "Like give is a 25k first-time storefront. Because [for] a lot of us, this is like a combination of all my savings that I'm putting into my shop."

As for Lee's Deli, owner Lee Quan says he will miss his beloved customers and workers and says he is sorry he had to close his doors.