By Joe Capozzi
The Seaside Deli & Market, the beloved County Pocket staple with a loyal following of billionaires and beach bums, is facing an uncertain future because of a legal fight with its landlord, a company owned by retired major league baseball player Rafael Belliard.
As lawyers for both sides try to negotiate a resolution, community leaders have launched a campaign to “Save the Deli,’’ as a banner erected across the front says. More than 650 signatures have been collected on a petition.
If the deli can’t remain in its familiar spot at 4635 N. Ocean Blvd., just south of Briny Breezes, owner Randy McCormick said he’s hoping to move it to a new space nearby instead of closing for good and putting his nine employees out of work.
“There is a chance we can negotiate the lease that will permit Seaside Deli to remain in the space,’’ said Carl T. Williams, who until late December was McCormick’s attorney. “We’d like to work with the landlord to the extent we can and try to find a solution that’s good for everybody.’’
Accusations have been flying from both sides for more than a year. But Belliard’s Ocean Blvd 14 LLC scored a victory Dec. 22 when Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Paige Gillman issued a written ruling giving the landlord possession of the space. The judge sided with the landlord’s claim that Seaside Deli hadn’t paid $40,279 in back rent, in violation of an October court order.
Although business at the Seaside Deli has been especially brisk in the two weeks since word got out about the deli’s future, McCormick said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office ordered the locks changed as early as the first week in January.
Despite Gillman’s ruling, Williams and McCormick insist the landlord’s claims are not true. Seaside Deli tried to make its monthly payments in 2022, they said, but Belliard family members and their attorney would not accept the money.
“We have never not paid our rent. My (lease) renewal would have started in March 2022,’’ McCormick said. “I made that payment directly into their account. The next month, when I tried to deposit the rent, I was told that they closed their account. From that point on, I sent the rent every month certified mail, and they refused delivery every month, and I have those receipts.’’
Williams and McCormick believe the Belliards have refused to accept the money because they are trying to sell the building. McCormick said he spoke a year and a half ago to two potential buyers from Gulf Stream who discussed with him the possible terms of a new lease.
One of the potential buyers, who did not want to be identified or quoted, confirmed that he and some partners at one point spoke to the Belliards about buying the site and spoke to McCormick about a potential lease.
It’s unclear whether there were formal negotiations.
‘Beach bums to billionaires’
Leonora Belliard, who is Rafael’s wife and handles Ocean Blvd 14’s business affairs, did not return a phone call from The Coastal Star. “I have no knowledge at this moment,’’ Ocean Blvd 14 attorney Joshua Pinsky said Dec. 20 when a reporter asked about the Belliards’ plans for the property.
Rafael Belliard’s eviction lawsuit, filed in July, was a counterclaim to a lawsuit filed in August 2021 by Seaside Deli. In that lawsuit, which is still open, Seaside Deli accused Ocean Blvd 14 of breaching the lease by trying to sell the property without giving McCormick the first right to negotiate a purchase, which is spelled out in the lease.
In a June 1 motion to dismiss, an attorney for Ocean Blvd 14 denied the claim, saying “there is no current contract or agreement to sell the subject property. …’’
The five-year lease expired March 31, but Seaside Deli has refused to vacate, Ocean Blvd 14 said in the July filing.
Meanwhile, word of the judge’s ruling has sent shock waves around the County Pocket, where Seaside Deli is considered not only a neighborhood asset but one of the few remnants of Old Florida along State Road A1A in Palm Beach County.
Loyal customers who have come by over the years for fresh deli sandwiches, imported beer or a loaf of bread range from hockey great Mario Lemieux and singer Jimmy Buffett to landscape workers and surfers.
Just the other day, actor-comedian Kevin James popped in to pick up one of the deli’s famous subs. And old-timers still remember the day New York Yankees star Derek Jeter and his then-girlfriend, singer Mariah Carey, stopped in for snacks on their way to the beach.
“We get beach bums to billionaires. To me they’re all the same. They’re just good people,’’ McCormick said.
The deli has been so popular, local Realtors over the years have included it in MLS listings as an amenity, a mom-and-pop alternative to having to cross the bridge to get to a Publix before the supermarket chain opened a store in Manalapan.
The deli extends accounts for local businesses, allowing their workers to pick up ice, drinks and food. For a while, it delivered lunch sandwiches for students at the private Gulf Stream School.
“It’s become part of the fabric of the community,’’ said Richie Podvesker, whose father, Fred, owned the deli and building since 1993 before selling it to the Belliards in 2014 for $460,000.
“My dad put his all into it just as I put my heart and soul into it for more than 20 years, seven days a week,’’ he said. “I just want to see it succeed.’’
An attraction for developers
Born in the Dominican Republic, Belliard played second base and shortstop from 1982 to 1998, the first nine years with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the last eight with the Atlanta Braves. He won a World Series ring with the 1995 Braves.
With Kevin Belliard, Rafael’s son, at the helm, the Belliards ran the store for three years before selling it to McCormick in 2017 and retaining the building.
In 2019, both the Belliards’ company and Seaside Deli were sued in federal court for purportedly violating the Americans With Disabilities Act over a lack of handicapped parking and other issues.
A confidential settlement was reached, according to court records. But McCormick, in the lawsuit he filed against Ocean Blvd 14 in August 2021 in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, claimed the Belliards were in breach of the lease because they were responsible for the ADA improvements.
The Belliards have had three different offers for the building, according to County Pocket insiders, a claim The Coastal Star could not confirm.
If no resolution can be reached, many longtime residents are worried about the future of the pocket’s Old Florida character.
“It’s going to be a big loss for the community,’’ said McCormick, who spoke in a tone of defeat. “When they tear this down and start developing it, it’s going to change the whole face of this area. In 10 years you won’t recognize this area.’’
If the Belliards do plan to sell, others don’t blame them for wanting to cash in on land that has appreciated with the real estate boom. But for many locals, the mere possibility of the Seaside Deli closing is the biggest scare since the mobile-home community of Briny Breezes was nearly sold to a developer in 2007.
“There are so many people moving to South Florida from up North who have large sums of money,’’ said the attorney Williams, who grew up in Delray Beach. “They see property and the potential for development and just tear it down or develop it in a way that they see fit, and unfortunately it can destroy the character of a neighborhood or a community that have been in place for decades or longer.’’
Word of the deli’s uncertain future did not reach a wide audience after the judge’s oral ruling on Dec. 14, but a week later a full-blown awareness campaign started. A “Save the Seaside Deli” petition was posted next to the cash register and the banner was erected outside, visible to A1A passersby.
Other local merchants, such as Nomad Surf Shop, Surfside Orthopedics & Primary Care and the Texaco gas station, have set up petitions.
“So many people, from Manalapan all the way down to Delray, are committed to this place,’’ said Kristine de Haseth, Ocean Ridge vice mayor and executive director for the Florida Coalition for Preservation, which is coordinating the petition drive and collecting signatures.
“They truly are a community asset. We are going to try to help them and see if we can buy them some time.’’
One regular said he’d gladly sign the petition.
“I am shocked” at the possibility the deli will close, Dan Funsch said after pulling up in his white Rolls-Royce to get an Italian sub.
“Very upsetting, very upsetting. You see so many neighbors here. Constantly. I think a lot of people are going to be very, very upset.’’