While exploring downtown San Francisco, we visited the Contemporary Jewish Museum and were right to take the word “contemporary” to heart! This lively institution offers timely and relevant exhibitions and is far from a historical museum or a library that some might expect it to be. The CJM is located in the former Jessie Street Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) Power Substation, a 1907 landmark designed by architect Willis Polk. In 2005 celebrated architect Daniel Libeskind presented his view of the 63,000 square foot (5,900 square meter) museum.
Preserving the defining features of Polk’s old building it is a powerful contemporary structure, where light and airy space is given to a museum café. In case of the CJM it is not just any museum café. It is a branch of Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen, created by Evan Bloom and Leo Beckerman. Wise Sons Deli is known for the best bagels and babkas on the West Coast, as well as for its friendly atmosphere and cozy spaces. All that translated to the CJM.
Wise Sons Deli is known for the best bagels and babkas on the West Coast, as well as for its friendly atmosphere and cozy spaces.
Even if you don’t feel like visiting the museum while you are in the neighborhood, or if it’s Wednesday (when the museum is closed) order from a window facing Yerba Buena Plaza, sit outside and have a delicious turkey sandwich, pastrami or kale Caesar. We enjoyed all of the above, ordered take away and chatted with one of the Wise Sons – Evan Bloom, who told us about the challenges of creating a museum café, his menu and art favorites.
How did the cooperation with the Contemporary Jewish Museum begin?
The CJM Board approached us shortly after our Original location opened on 24th Street. They were looking for a new partner for their Café space and this seemed like a very logical partnership.
Comparing the experience of creating an independent restaurant and a museum restaurant – what is more challenging and why?
Creating a restaurant in a museum has it’s own set of challenges. Not only are you tied to the normal restaurant ebbs and flows in business but also to things like gallery schedules, events, and promotions. It’s an added layer. We also have to deal with a shared space- museum, smells coming from the kitchen, deliveries, security – they are all very different beasts at The Museum.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned from a museum environment?
Just how much it takes to display art! The inner working of the Museum are much broader than I would have ever imagined.
Authentic and unique menu of Wise Sons is an attraction by itself, but did you ever create exhibition-inspired or art-inspired dishes?
We have created dishes for gallery opening but not for the daily menu itself. It’s great to serve the artists a meal.
The CJM Deli menu is not that vast, what are your personal favorites?
My favorite lunch at the Café is a Smoked Turkey #19 Sandwich. It’s turkey, Russian dressing, coleslaw, & swiss cheese on our house baked rye. The combinations of flavors (Smokey, sweet, salty) and the play in different textures really does it. And I could eat a turkey sandwich just about every day. It’s filling but doesn’t leave you weighted down.
The CJM is small, but fantastic by itself, did it ever happen that someone came for the food and stayed for an exhibition?
That is the hope! We want this to be a mutually beneficial partnership.
What artworks would you like to have by the kitchen or at home?
I’m a huge fan of Roman Vishniac. My grandparents had a lot of his work on their walls that I looked at for years growing up. Such deep emotions in the work.
Many museums are rethinking the concept of museum cafes, did any other art spaces approach you with the idea of creating another museum Deli?
No. But I think this is a unique partnership as we’re both Jewish community gatherings spaces in our own right. I did notice that Russ & Daughters opened in the NYC Jewish Museum just a few months back.
The time goes by and we keep dreaming about that pastrami and corned beef combo... Next time in San Francisco the CJM Wise Sons Deli is the first stop!