Russell Street Deli to close Saturday, owner's retail soup company expands to 200+ stores
The end of an era is coming a bit sooner for fans and customers of beloved Russell Street Deli in Eastern Market.
Following a highly-publicized dispute with new landlord Sanford Nelson, the longstanding breakfast and lunch destination announced in the spring that it would close at the end of September. Now, because employees are set with other jobs, owner Ben Hall said he's ready to close sooner.
The last say of service will be Saturday.
"Everybody that needed to have job has a job, one way or another," said Hall, adding that some of his deli employees will come with him to help run Little Pot, his packaged soup company that includes many of Russell Street's most popular recipes.
"That was the biggest thing about (staying open) ... I didn't want the Nelsons to be the ones who decided that these people with families and lives and mortgages and car notes no longer have a job as of today. I knew I could stretch it out. So we stretched it out as long as we needed to."
He said coincidentally his soup company just landed a big account with Whole Foods Midwest, which will bring the total number of stores they are in to more than 200. Little Pot has a production facility at Avalon Bakehouse and Outlet in Detroit now, and this fall will move into a space in Eastern Market's accelerator program.
"It was a lucky synergy that we are able to absorb a lot of the employees sooner than we expected," he said, adding that they also have accounts serving soup in area schools that are about to kick in with the fall season.
Hall said he started Little Pot, which originally had the Russell Street Deli name, after the QLine was announced, which he saw as a signal that the area would be changing.
"We knew we would see a dip in business, so we thought, what we could we do, so in advance of that we started working on the soup concept ... our first store was Whole Foods on Mack and now we're in 210 stores," he said.
Hall said the thing he'll miss the most after the deli closes after 30 years is the customers.
"I've literally seen people on Saturday morning after their first date ... watch them fall in love, have kids, raise a family, and some of those kids are now teenagers and they've grown up on the food and it's been a big part of their lives. It's a pretty big loss people-wise."
He said there's a chance he could pop up in Eastern Market with a new restaurant in the future, but it wouldn't be called Russell Street Deli.