Just a short time before Beasley’s Deli opened in 1989, the leaflets hit the city – leaflets that were really detailed menus of promised deli delicacies previously unavailable in the neighborhood.
On the day Beasley’s opened, it was forced to close only eight hours later; all the food, it seems, had sold out. And the deli has operated in the black ever since.
Helen Beasley single-handedly moved the city beyond American cheese and has done a lot more besides. “I’m a manager. I could probably manage anything,” is how the 34-year-old entrepreneur explains a talent that has been a recurring theme in her life over the last 19 years.
Beasley’s first job at age 14 was in a Long Beach restaurant, where she progressed to a management role by age 17. Moving to this city, she later worked as a distribution manager at the Guardian, and the stress associated with the job led to her decision to escape to Tahiti in 1986. When she returned, it was with the conviction that she would never again work for anyone else -from then on, it would be her own game to win or lose.
So, although at age 24 she didn’t know everything, she did know food. She borrowed “to the max,” relying on the sort of “creative financing” that only a young, single woman with big ideas could come up with. “I had to really sell myself,” she explains. The result was a South of Market restaurant called Canary Island which will be remembered as an urban culinary and visual oasis and is now a nondescript parking lot.
In 1989, the 25-year-old feminist up-start leased a small, boarded-up corner spot at the city, which used to be a butcher shop. She initially encountered some hostility from neighboring businesses and residents who were opposed to change, but Beasley had an idea that she knew was a winner.
She knew that convenience food was here to stay, but that people were also eating healthier. By combining the two trends, Beasley decided to deliver something in the middle -a deli offering a wide range of take-out and eat-in items (“from soups to sinful desserts”) in a comfortable environment with a community feel to it.