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In Hong Kong, dreams for a new Jewish deli devolve into a war between owners

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TAIPEI (JTA) — When Rebecca Schrage arrived in Hong Kong from her home near Boston to work in finance around 2014, “there were no bagels. The best you could buy was like bread with a hole in it.”

After she began making her own bagels from home and fulfilling orders for local businesses, she quit her job in finance to pursue bagel-making full time in 2014, opening a bagel factory and eventually a brick-and-mortar shop called Schragels.

But she always wanted to open an authentic Jewish deli in Hong Kong, following in the footsteps of her grandparents, who were themselves deli owners in New York. In 2021, she partnered with local restaurateur Mike Watt and investor Jamie Wilson to pursue the idea; she decided to name the restaurant Mendel’s, after her father, Michael Mendel.

Now that dream has turned sour, and a legal battle over Mendel’s has boiled over into a fierce social media uproar, with customers and employees hurling accusations of harassment, mob-like activity and cultural appropriation.

At the heart of the uproar is a dispute between Schrage — a majority shareholder of Joy Lox Club Ltd., the company that owns Mendel’s Delicatessen — and Watt and Wilson. As members of an entity called Jones Crusher Ltd., Watt and Wilson own 40% of the shares in the deli to Schrage’s 60%. They are suing Schrage in Hong Kong district court for alleged damages caused by a breach of contract and misrepresentation.

The battle became public when videos posted by Mendel’s social media account showed men in black clothing blocking entry to the restaurant, implying Schrage sent them to intimidate customers and staff.

“Security has been hired by another party to verbally and physically prevent guests and the Mendel’s team from entering the premise[s], and create crippling disruption such as turning off the main power,” read the posts from the restaurant’s account, to which Shrage says she has no access. Additional posts claim a general manager had been physically grabbed by one of the guards. “At the behest of their employer, security guards take shifts and never leave the premise[s], including overnight.”

Posts on the same account explained that Mendel’s had been “involved in a complex commercial dispute” that is​ “in the hands of the court to decide. We are going to court to fight for our right to operate this business we created,” an Instagram post read.

The videos outraged Hong Kong’s expat community, members of which took to social media to criticize Schrage for allegedly sending the security guards to Mendel’s.

A post shared by Mendel’s Delicatessen (@mendelsdeli)


© The Times of Israel

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