Mac’s Deli is a downtown SR institution built on tradition
Excerpts from a 2005 Press Democrat article written by Gaye LeBaron.
Mac’s Deli & Cafe is the oldest continuing breakfast and sandwich cafe in Sonoma County. It would be surprising if there was another deli of that type within the county’s 1,550 square miles that could match Mac’s reputation for building New York-style sandwiches in the same location for over 60 years.
The original owner was Mac Nesmon, who opened the deli in 1952. Mac sold to Al and Lorraine Croup in 1955. Then, in 1970, Iraj Soltani and his wife, Lynn, purchased the business from the Croups.
Since that time the Soltani’s have run Mac’s as a family business. Iraj’s son, Toraj, and daughter, Tami, both started in the deli as teenagers. Toraj, who was busing and washing dishes at age 14, has been the guy in charge since the later ’80’s.
Toraj met Lisa in 1988 when she came into Mac’s to apply for a job. He was smitten at first glance and the rest is history. Toraj and Lisa have been running the show almost ever since. They have two children, Devon and Tatum. Devon’s put in his fair share of time at Mac’s, usually on summer vacations or when they need extra help.
Way before Mac’s happened, Iraj was a classic immigrant story. He left his native Iran in 1962 and came to the East Bay where he had friends. He took a job at a restaurant in Berkeley called Kirby’s where he rose from busboy to waiter to bartender and manager. He then became partners with the Kirby’s owner in two restaurants before he struck out on his own.
In 1976 Eshi, Iraj’s sister, came to the U.S. Their younger sister, Azi, decided to make this her home in 1990. For over three decades Eshi and Azi shared hostess and cashier duties. Azi also made the “to-go” sandwiches for the lunch rush and baked the pies, which were almost as famous as the sandwiches.
Mac’s longevity and prosperity under just three ownerships in more than half a century have spawned a kind of contest among its customers to determine who’s been eating there the longest.
“We still have customers who have been coming since it opened in the 1950s. And now we have younger people, their children and grandchildren.”
What prompts such loyalty? The food and the people. The Soltani’s have always treated their customers as friends. Often a hug and a kiss come before the menu.
“We also have very little turnover in our staff,” Toraj says proudly. “We work hard at stability.”
Those of us who remember it when, who remember the green walls and those old Naugahyde booths that were either green or blue or aqua depending on who you asked, might say, “No, it isn’t exactly the same, it’s better.”
Mac’s – the place where people bring their families and friends, where they meet to talk business, where deals are made, where political campaigns began. That hasn’t changed. But the town sure has.
Originally written by Gaye LeBaron, 2005
Updated by Mac’s Deli & Cafe, 2016