'We didn’t rebound': After 10 years in Menlo Park, The Refuge will close its doors Jan. 20 | Peninsula Foodist | The Peninsula Foodist | Almanac Online |

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'We didn’t rebound': After 10 years in Menlo Park, The Refuge will close its doors Jan. 20

Uploaded: Jan 13, 2023

The pastrami burger with fries and a beer at The Refuge. (Photo courtesy Mark Helsel)

By Kate Bradshaw

The Refuge, home to Menlo Park's most renowned pastrami and Belgian beer offerings, will be closing its location there on Jan. 20, its owners announced on social media Jan. 11. The other locations in San Carlos and San Mateo will remain open.

In a recent interview, co-owners and married couple Matt Levin and Melanie Roth cited a number of reasons, mainly economic, for their decision.

"We didn't rebound," Roth says. "We just can't keep up."

The restaurant was hit hard by COVID-19 and closed down for about seven weeks at the start of the pandemic, she says. And while The Refuge received a PPP loan to help cover some of their losses, the economic recovery, especially in Menlo Park, hasn't been what they'd hoped. Among the ongoing problems are that customers remain anxious about eating indoors, costs are rising because of inflation and minimum wage increases, and the switch to hybrid employment schedules has meant fewer customers in town. That in turn has meant a huge hit to their lunchtime and happy hour business, they said.

Another obstacle, they say, has been having to work through third-party operators like Forkable, Doordash and Grubhub to fulfill catering orders, which charge significant fees on top of existing costs. "It's almost impossible to sell catered orders to companies without going through these middlemen," Levin says.

"I feel like I'm Rip van Winkle," he adds. "I went to sleep and suddenly our concept is no longer a good concept for the times."


The Toasted Slaw #19, a sandwich with pastrami, cold Swiss cheese and 'crazy Russian' dressing on toasted rye. (Photo courtesy Mark Helsel.)

With the end of their lease approaching in Menlo Park, Roth says, it just didn't make sense to keep it. Menlo Park's downtown has been hit particularly hard compared to the other communities they operate in, and the vacant storefronts on Santa Cruz Avenue aren't helping to draw foot traffic their way.

"We hadn't seen any indication that it was going to increase at all," Levin says.

The San Carlos and San Mateo locations will remain open, and Levin and Roth say there's plenty to draw their Menlo Park customers a few miles up the road to their other locations. The San Carlos location, their first, was featured on Guy Fieri's "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" about 10 years ago, and the San Mateo location, situated in the Hillsdale Mall, is their newest. It has a large outdoor dining area with heaters, a canopy and lights to mitigate customers' indoor dining concerns.

"It's not like we're not busy," Levin says. "We're just not busy enough."

The Refuge, 1143 Crane St., Menlo Park, 650-319-8197; 963 Laurel St., San Carlos, 650-598-9813; and 66 31st Ave., San Mateo, 650-458-3044; Instagram: @refuge_pastrami.
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Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Jan 14, 2023 at 12:33 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

So what's going to replace them?

"Another obstacle, they say, has been having to work through third-party operators like Forkable, Doordash and Grubhub to fulfill catering orders, which charge significant fees on top of existing costs. "It's almost impossible to sell catered orders to companies without going through these middlemen," Levin says. "

Those companies not only hurt the restaurants but they also spend hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying to deny their gig workers benefits and the ability to collect unemployment while they destroy our community-serving businesses AND stick us with the cost of housing the homeless.

Remember when startups used to create things instead of destroying businesses and "disrupting industries" so a few execs can enrich themselves?


Posted by Gertrude Petrovsky, a resident of Mountain View,
on Jan 14, 2023 at 12:46 pm

Gertrude Petrovsky is a registered user.

Serving Pastrami with Swiss Cheese is not KOSHER...shame on both the proprietors and any customer proclaiming to be Jewish.

Meat + the milk of the animal should never be served or eaten together if one is a devout/Orthodox individual of Hebrew descent.


Posted by A Person, a resident of Southgate,
on Jan 14, 2023 at 2:12 pm

A Person is a registered user.

This is a great place for pastrami but the prices are high for the market and the product. (A reuben is almost $30.) It probably would have been worth investing in the liquor license, though I know that's a tough process.


Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Jan 14, 2023 at 4:31 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Whoever said they were pretending to be Jewish and/or were serving Jewish pastrami? Their pastrami was never even close to NY deli pastrami.


Posted by Menlo 2024, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks,
on Jan 14, 2023 at 4:46 pm

Menlo 2024 is a registered user.

Thank Newsom and his draconian COVID rules.........Was it worth it......


Posted by Byron Levinson, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Jan 14, 2023 at 4:50 pm

Byron Levinson is a registered user.

"Whoever said they were pretending to be Jewish and/or were serving Jewish pastrami? Their pastrami was never even close to NY deli pastrami."

@Online Name:

The last time I checked, Roth and Levin were Jewish surnames. So is Levinson.

"This is a great place for pastrami but the prices are high for the market and the product. (A reuben is almost $30.)"

$30.00 is bit steep for a Reuben sandwich...unless it is Kosher pastrami and even then, a good one should cost no more than $17.50 at best (with fries).


Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on Jan 14, 2023 at 5:52 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

I'm not Jewish but keeping in mind that only 2% of Americans are Jewish it stands to reason that not all foods will be Kosher. A lot of customers probably aren't Jewish, and not all Jews stick to the dietary restrictions of Jewish law. Who said they were devout/Orthodox even if they are of Hebrew decent?

$30.00 for any sandwich is absurd. Maybe they went out of business because their prices were too high.


Posted by Jacob Weiss, a resident of another community,
on Jan 15, 2023 at 8:26 am

Jacob Weiss is a registered user.

Jennifer is correct. According to Pew Research, Jews comprised 2.4% of the American population in 2022.

The state with the lowest Jewish population is South Dakota with only 250 Jews residing there.

As far as Kosher dining guidines are concerned, these rules were early health-driven mandates that are not applicable today because we now have the FDA to inspect all foodstuffs for safety and cleanliness.

As a result, it is no longer necessary to practice these ancient guidelines unless one is an Orthodox Jew.

Most modern-day Jews consume anything they choose including pork products and shellfish.

As for a $30.00 Reuben sandwich, only someone with money to burn spends that amount on a simple sandwich.

As for Guy Fieri menu recommendations, the episode where he is sampling chitlins at a Colorado soulfood diner is priceless because he is utterly repulsed by the flavor and smell of stewed pig intestines.

Even Reformed Jews avoid chitlins.


Posted by Burke Long, a resident of another community,
on Jan 15, 2023 at 12:17 pm

Burke Long is a registered user.

Paying $30.00 for a Reuben sandwich is excessive unless it is so large that two people can easily share it.

No sympathy here for greed and overpriced goods.


Posted by Victor+Bishop, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Jan 15, 2023 at 2:40 pm

Victor+Bishop is a registered user.

So one person says that a Reuben is $30 and everyone takes it as a fact and whines about it!!!
A Reuben is $22.45.

Web Link


Posted by Rufus Young, a resident of another community,
on Jan 16, 2023 at 10:55 am

Rufus Young is a registered user.

Even it were made with Kosher-Kobe-Wagyu pastrami, $22.45 is still an exorbitant price to pay for a Reuben sandwich.

Some folks might be willing to pay that price, but most saavy people wouldn't.


Posted by James, a resident of Midtown,
on Jan 16, 2023 at 11:38 am

James is a registered user.

We had a smoked meat sandwich in Montreal this fall and it was about $20US. It was enough for two or three people. Refuge's pastrami sandwich is similar in size.


Posted by Happy Resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights,
on Jan 16, 2023 at 12:30 pm

Happy Resident is a registered user.

Let us not forget that their pastrami was always shredded. Why? Generally , their sandwiches were "gummy' and often tasteless, not to mention expensive. Hugely expensive for the quality. That was their problem, a serious lack of quality.
Good beer, though.


Posted by Brian, a resident of Shoreline West,
on Jan 16, 2023 at 3:18 pm

Brian is a registered user.

FWIW, a pound of sliced pastrami from Katz's Deli in NY is $38.


Posted by Menlo Voter., a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jan 17, 2023 at 7:11 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

I liked their food, but not their prices. They were pretty steep even when they first opened ten years ago. IIRC about $15 for a sandwich. And now they're $7+ more. That's just too much for a sandwich, even a good sandwich. After eating there a few times I stopped going just because of the prices.


Posted by staying home, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jan 17, 2023 at 3:05 pm

staying home is a registered user.

love the sandwiches, love the goofy fries. love the beer, always had a fantastic selection. pre-covid, it was always crowded. best of luck, you will be missed.


Posted by Common sense, a resident of another community,
on Jan 18, 2023 at 9:46 pm

Common sense is a registered user.

Echoing prior comment ("staying home"). It was always busy when we went there pre-pandemic; the over-the-top sandwiches were a local rarity (short of a trip to Manhattan which would be REALLY expensive), and the subtle and diverse beer selection was destination-worthy. Comments speculating about the closure (even those that didn't pile on with the wrong price) clearly aren't typical of those happy customers before Covid.

The owners were forthright here about the reasons. Pandemic reducing indoor dining; fees from delivery services. No speculation required. One of many restaurants seeing hard days. At least the other Refuge locations remain!


Posted by Romen jonas, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Jan 20, 2023 at 12:35 am

Romen jonas is a registered user.

I hope the San Mateo and San Carlos locations are doing ok! Good beer menu, good food but little bit expensive i mean $20 sandwiches
https://www.newassignmenthelpau.com



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