.Elsie’s on Solano: Now Closed

Chef Cash Caris says goodbye to Delirama and its latest reincarnation

The following article was written after I interviewed Cash Caris on April 3. At the time, the chef sounded optimistic about Delirama’s reincarnation as Elsie’s on Solano. On Sunday night, Caris posted on Instagram that he would close Elsie’s until April 17 to reassess their business plan. 

By Monday morning, Caris added an update, “It is with a heavy heart that I share the news of the Solano location’s closure after more than two years of serving our wonderful community.” He cited “high rent, utilities, labor costs and the uncompromising need for quality ingredients” as the reasons behind making the decision. 

When Delirama opened in 2022, customers waited in long lines to get a taste of Cash Caris’ pastrami sandwiches. On my first visit, the metal fence I was leaning against started to embed striations along my back and belly. After ordering, there was a second wait for the kitchen to prep and deliver the sandwiches.

For much of Delirama’s existence, those lines persisted—until Caris closed his deli-adjacent restaurant earlier this year. The chef told me that, despite the crowds, the business wasn’t making ends meet. Rather, the ends didn’t justify the meats.

“From the get-go, pastrami sandwiches have a very small profit margin,” Caris said. “We make the bread in-house, we brine the meat in-house. We’re doing all these things from scratch to try to give the best quality sandwich we can, which is so labor intensive.”

That profit margin quickly disappeared, fueled, in part, by Toast’s 13.5% cut on all credit card sales. Delirama’s pastrami was beloved by customers but Caris and his business partner, Anahita Cann, realized that the restaurant wasn’t financially viable. And they were both working non-stop.

When Cann decided to step away from Delirama in January, Caris took time to regroup. The chef asked friends of his in the restaurant business for advice. One restaurateur, Steve Paoli, recognized that Caris had to let go of the narrow focus on pastrami, despite the fact he was making a high-quality, sought-after product.

Caris had tried different approaches in the kitchen along the way, such as staying open for dinner or making daily specials. “They never sold. People came here for the pastrami sandwiches, and we couldn’t sell anything else to save our lives,” he said. “And it was really frustrating.”

In addition to talking things over with friends and colleagues, Caris decided to consult a shaman near where he used to live in Bonny Doon. “I told her I needed her to clear me out. I needed to feel refreshed,” he said. “I was told that it would help me to find some clarity and to find the path that I needed to go down.”

The struggle to keep Delirama going led to overworking, and problems developed with his own mental health. “I’m working myself to the bone, right? I just kept telling myself, ‘There’s no giving up on this restaurant,’” Caris said.

On his way home from the shaman, Caris started to think about his late grandmother, Elsie, who had raised him. “I started crying and it [the grief] just started pouring out of me,” he said.

Growing up, Elsie watched cooking programs with Caris and took the time to teach him how to cook. The chef decided to rename the restaurant in her honor and create a new menu. “It’s going to be Elsie’s, and this is what cooking from my heart and soul is,” he said.  

Caris described the food at Elsie’s on Solano as European. “There are French and Italian influences, but it’s got my own sort of flair to it,” he said. “Because we’re in California, I’m making everything seasonal, getting produce from local farms and local vendors.”

His grandmother, a “stickler” for quality, grew her own fruits and vegetables. Elsie’s used halal, grass-fed and finished beef, and organic chicken.

In its new iteration, Elsie’s still made pastrami, but it wasn’t the No. 1 seller. “I sold a ton of steak sandwiches, burgers, veg sandwiches,” he said. “We have bouillabaisse on the menu—so people are seeing variety now, and they’re really enjoying everything.”

With the addition of menu items such as bouillabaisse and steak frites, Caris described Elsie’s as an all-day bistro he intended to keep open seven days a week. But he was never able to activate the “all day” aspect of Elsie’s during the soft-opening phase, and on April 8, due to financial and supply issues, he closed the restaurant permanently.

Elsie’s on Solano, 1746 Solano Ave., Berkeley.

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