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Hello Deli In New York City has a Celebrity Owner


New York City is known for many famous landmarks: The Empire State building, the Statue of Liberty, and Times Square. Amid all the hustle and bustle of the city is another landmark that is quickly gaining international attention. For producer Roger Hsu, Elaine Lu takes us to the Hello Deli.

Hello Deli owner, Rupert Jee, is excited when he talks about sandwiches. "It was always my ambition to own a sandwich shop. I love eating sandwiches. To me it's like a toy."

At first glance, Rupert Jee's "Hello Deli" looks just like the many other sandwich shops on just about every street corner in New York. "Instead of being a strictly local deli place, now we are pretty (much) international. I get people from all over the world coming to have a sandwich here."

The deli's signature sandwiches are not the only draw. Many people come just to meet Jee.

One tourist find him amusing. "It's funny, because he is like a real person and he is hilarious. He is like a real person. You could have him as a neighbor or something; he is like one of us." Another tries to describe it. "Two of my co-workers, they said they wanted, that's one thing they said they wanted: a Hello Deli tee-shirt."

Rupert Jee is purportedly the most famous deli owner in town. "Looks like I am selling more T-shirts than sandwiches today. We sell caps, T-shirts, mugs... mugs with my face on it. Isn't it freaky?"

The little sandwich shop's notoriety began when Jee appeared on the "Late Show with David Letterman", a popular weeknight television comedy talk show.

Jee was featured, as part of the show's "Meet the Neighbor" segment. His deli is just down the street from the show's studio. "I told the writers very bluntly that they didn't have to come in, because I was always fearful of being in front of (the) TV, I just never cared for it. But it was inevitable, I think the more you don't want it, the more they'll do it."

Finally, Jee made his debut on the Late Show in September 1993.

Being a sidekick on Letterman's show, Jee often plays pranks on unsuspecting New Yorkers on the street. He seems to have a knack for it. "I know from the beginning (that) I have no talent for acting. The only way I can succeed in this, is to be myself, and let things take its course, and that's what I did."

Jee became so popular with the audience that he started to appear on the Late Show frequently. "I get people screaming my name out. I get people just smiling, people coming over for pictures and all that."

But his first love is still the deli. Co-owner Mrs. Ng explains why. "He seldom had the chance to eat American food. Everyday would be like the typical village (Chinese) food that would be laid on the table. He used to crave for sandwiches and American food. Only when he got sick, his mom would buy him a sandwich. So he used to love (them), that's the reason why he said he developed the passion for deli. I said, 'You are so weird'."

This is why, even though he makes more than $200,000 a year from appearances on the Late Show and souvenirs sales at his shop, Jee still enjoys selling sandwiches. "Even after college I always dreamt about opening my own sandwich shop. I thought it would be a nice challenge for myself and it's something I truly wanted. That's why I got into the sandwich business. I think I am one of the few Chinese people in the deli business, but it's something I always wanted to do and, why kill a dream, just make it come true."

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