Locally Richmond is an occasional series of profiles that highlights the small businesses that contribute to making Richmond a unique community.
Many things change over the course of two decades. But change is rare at Angelo’s Gourmet Delicatessen, where the prices have increased only once.
The sandwich shop, located on San Pablo Avenue near the El Cerrito city line, has been open for 81 years, changing owners only twice. Korean spouses Anna Lee and Jae Choy have been the restaurant’s third owners for the last 20 years.
“We’d rather have in our pocket a little less,” Lee said, “but serve more customers at the same price.”
Lee and Choy immigrated to California as children and met in Santa Fe when they were teenagers. Before buying the restaurant, Lee and Choy owned a grocery store in El Sobrante for nearly 20 years.
Angelo’s offers gourmet sandwiches, deli meats and cheeses, and a small selection of teas and jams. It also offers catering. The restaurant’s most popular sandwich is the turkey bacon avocado served on Dutch crunch bread, also Lee’s favorite.
“I always make the food as if I were giving it to my children,” Lee said. “To my family.”
That’s why the couple keeps prices down, even though suppliers aren’t exactly adhering to the same policy.
“Everything is going up,” Lee said. “Vegetables, meat. We need to have a price raise for everything going up. Bet we don’t care, we don’t want to.”
Lee said the area has changed drastically since they took ownership of the restaurant. The community has grown more socially and economically diverse . There are more low-income people now, more retirees on fixed incomes, more recent immigrants trying to establish an economic foothold. The couple would rather offer good value for the neighborhood, and attract lots of customers, even if profit margins are lower.
Other restaurants in the area that have experienced increases in operating costs have not had the same luck.
“I see all around they close down little by little after owning their restaurant a very long time,” Lee said. “I get sad when I see them.”
That is not the only thing that makes Lee sad. She does not like days off.
“My husband wants to retire, but I say no,” Lee said. “On holidays we close, but on the second day, I miss my customers. I think, ‘Where are they going to eat lunch?’ Customers are more happy when we get the day off because they care for us.”
Through the duration of a 40-minute interview, Lee excused herself twice to help the growing line of customers. Her husband and two employees behind the counter were not enough for the after-lunchtime rush.
Paul Woodcock, the owner of a nearby mobile home park, ate a turkey cranberry sandwich at a nearby table. It was his first time at the restaurant.
“They do a great job,” Woodcock said as he cleaned his hands and wiped his mouth. “Look at me, I’m a mess!”
As Lee returned, she stopped to tell a customer to stop picking up her trash from the table, that they would take care of it.
“Without the customers, we cannot grow like (this),” Lee said. “Always customer first, no matter what.”
As Woodcock picks up his belongings, Lee tells him they hope to see him again.
“If it wasn’t good, I wouldn’t come back,” Woodcock said. “And I’m coming back.”