Stopsky’s shuts after heartfelt farewell

After nearly three-and-a-half years in business, and just as many on the Island, Jeff and Lara Sanderson announced they’d sold the space they’d called home since 2011.

It’s Friday, just two days before Jeff Sanderson and his wife Lara, will shut Stopsky’s Delicatessen for good, and business is booming. Jeff’s phone pings with text messages from customers wishing him well. Regulars share memories and grieve what they call a “great loss for the community” on Stopsky’s Facebook page. Others leave handwritten notes on the backs of receipts.

“People have said ‘thank you,’” says Jeff, pausing before a lunch rush brings a literal stampede of people through the front door. “They’ve expressed grief over the fact that we’re closing. But overall people have been understanding of what the restaurant business is…It’s been so heartwarming for [us].”

After nearly three-and-a-half years in business, and just as many on the Island, Jeff and Lara announced early last week that they’d sold the space they’d called home since 2011 and were finalizing lease agreements with the next tenant.

“Stopsky’s was a project of the heart,” wrote Jeff on the restaurant’s Facebook page, Tuesday morning, “whose mission was to reconnect people to Jewish heritage, connect the community, and create homemade Jewish comfort cuisine from scratch. We achieved a lot of this, but in the end could not discover the magic formula to break even.”

The concept for Stopsky’s in many ways, grew out of and alongside Jeff and Lara’s relationship with one another. While honeymooning in Portland six years ago, the couple dined at a Jewish deli called Kenny and Zuke’s. Realizing that Seattle lacked anything comparable, they began to shape plans for Stopsky’s, a deli named after Jeff’s grandfather, who moved from Ukraine to the United States in 1905. The couple wanted their new space and menu to be rooted in Jewish cuisine, but with an updated twist and an infusion of Northwest ingredients.

They filled their menu with Jewish staples like borscht, challah, reuben corned beef and matzo ball soup. Other favorites got a modern twist. Their eggs benedict swapped English muffins for potato latkes.

Most of all, they wanted community to underscore everything they did and food was a natural conduit. Jeff, a self-described extrovert became the face of Stopsky’s. He’s the person gabbing with regulars the minute they walk through the door. Lara, became the brains behind the project — the interior designer, who gave the place its look and feel.

“We said we’re only going to do this a certain way…We’re going to make everything from scratch, using the best quality products and we’re not going to treat Jewish cuisine as this museum piece from the past,” said Jeff. “We’re making something that’s a living tradition.”

Regulars would note Jeff and Lara’s attention to detail and their emphasis on community. Black-and-white family photos cover every square inch of Stopsky’s back wall. Some of them are of Jeff and Lara’s own family. But as Stopsky’s made a name for itself in the community, they solicited other family photos. When one Islander lost his battle with prostrate cancer, the couple asked for a portrait to remember him by. Sharing photos seemed analogous to their mission of creating community.

“Every one of these pictures has a story. The atmosphere of the restaurant is very much about these pictures on the wall,” says Jeff.

Stopsky’s has received its share of accolades. Bon Appetit featured their Passover Seder menu; and in the spring, The New York Times mentioned Stopsky’s among a number of Jewish deli revivals across the country. So when the couple realized they couldn’t do things to their own standards, and meet their bottom line, Jeff and Lara felt it was time to close this chapter.

“We did this not thinking it would be a big money maker for us,” said Jeff. “We’re not restaurant people and we thought in our hubris we could run a restaurant. But restaurants are very, very tough businesses. It’s about pennies, ounces and seconds — all the little things that come together really matter to make a place profitable.”

Jeff and Lara will continue to sell their Stopsky’s label at certain gourmet food shops, including at DeLaurenti in Seattle. Jeff says also that the new tenant, though he is not ready to announce who it is yet, aligns with Stopsky’s value system of quality and sustainable food.