by Bill Crossman, posted 27 July 2012
Every day for the past thirty-two years; Moses Shaibi, or ‘Moses’ as he prefers to be called, has operated the M & S Deli and Apartments in the historic Fremont Hotel building, site of the first Fremont Hotel. He can recall the Tyler Dog Food Company here, Red Hook Brewery starting in a small room down the block before it moved to the trolley barn (now Theo Chocolate) and, oh yes, the hippies.
A Central Character In A ‘Colorful Gallery’
Like Lee Chong, the Chinaman grocer, described in ‘Cannery Row,’ by John Steinbeck, Moses is a central character in a “colorful gallery of unforgettable denizens.” Born in Yemen, with the biblical name, he came to the U.S. as a Merchant Marine. He earned his U.S. citizenship in 1976, the milestone of the bi-centennial year, as he proudly remarks to anyone who might question his Middle Eastern origin. In fashion characteristic of most of US immigrants, he followed a path of laid by welcoming, supportive hands, offering skills and resources to help him get a leg up through his Yemenis community. He takes the responsibilities of citizenship he has earned very seriously.
One of his tenants, a Fremont Sunday Market vendor, described Moses as a generous, concise, big hearted gentleman who is also a landlord. This merchant of Fremont, can be heard speaking perfect English or his native Arabic on his cell phone, while in the store. He and his wife, Nicole, his childhood sweetheart, have raised four successful bi-lingual, dual citizenship adult children here. For the past four years, Dan, his son-in-law, has been Moses’ trusty number two at the counter, or on the floor stocking coolers and shelves.
Basem, a ‘nephew’ (son of Moses’ best friend) works the counter daily for the swing shift. With his easily flashing, bright eyes, and luminescent smile, at age 25 Basem’s a cheerful, service-oriented employee. Recently completing his Bachelor’s of Science degree of Marine Transportation at California Maritime Academy, in Vallejo, he’s hoping to get a job in the industry while simultaneously progressing toward his U.S. citizenship. Basem describes his ‘uncle,’ whom he’s known since age 7, as a jokester, giving him advice to relax, not take life too seriously and most importantly, to “keep smiling.”
A Central Character Of Our Community
As Steinbeck wrote in ‘Cannery Row’, “Not that Lee Chong was avaricious. He wasn’t, but if one wanted to spend money, he was available.” Like Chong, Moses understands building community to be one of his bottom lines.
Through 32-years he’s been available, through our day-to-day, the nightlife, festivals and events that form the stuff of our legends. From our first morning hit of caffeine to our last nightcap, and most things incidental between, Moses and his extended family has been serving destination revelers, passers-by and neighborhood denizens.
A Central Place ‘To Go For Your Stuff’
As Steinbeck described Chong’s store in ‘Cannery Row’, it “…was the place to go for your stuff.” Moses’ M & S Deli is the place we go for our stuff. Fremonsters can best find him, in constant motion, holding court, from early morning to mid-afternoon at the ‘Deli,’ as neighbors call it.
The Deli has a constantly changing product assortment. From convenience store fare, snacks, candy, frozen items, beer, wine, soft drinks, tobacco, dairy, lottery tickets and toiletries to those last minute, unplanned necessities neighbors need like spice packets, condiments, pastas, charcoal, motor oil and 40 ounce beer.
The Deli features sub sandwiches, hand crafted tuna and chicken salads, gyros, falafel, and shawarma. Specialty desserts are available like Baklava and Ktaifi. A new addition is a self-service, fresh-brewed, espresso/latte/cappuccino machine. Last year Moses opened a late night quick serve window, on N 36th St, offering the club and street crowd food on-the-go to manage their jubilatory restlessness. He offers a burger and fries combo that is a favorite.
The store door, simultaneously facing N 36th and Francis Avenue, is surrounded by an early 20th Century trapezoidal two-story building. It has a full cold storage basement, industrial kitchen, and small apartments that share a bath and water closet. There are stairways both northwest and south connected by a second floor corridor. The front doors open to a wide stairway revealing an atrium lit by a huge skylight. Showing the wear of time, the walls, ceiling, woodwork, flooring and fixtures are original 1920 Craftsman construction. It begs the question, ‘what if the interior and exterior walls of this structure could talk?’
With a stubborn and sometimes barely discernible adaptation to life 90-years after its construction, Moses Shaibi’s M & S Deli and Apartments building is a preservationist’s dream. Of his own dreams for himself and his business, Moses, at a youthful 58 years old, bristled when questioned of them. “Future?” he responded, “I’ll be here, what else would I do?”
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text & photos ©2012 Bill Crossman
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