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One day after David Letterman’s announcement that the 2015 season of “The Late Show" will be his last, Rupert Jee is still processing the news. Not that business has slowed at Jee’s two-decade-old-plus sandwich shop, Hello Deli, which gained fame in skits featured on the program during Letterman’s 21-year run at the Ed Sullivan Theater.
"It’s selfish of me to feel bad about it," Jee told us as he wrapped smoked turkey sandwiches and rung up paraphernalia such as "Late Show"–emblazoned T-shirts, mugs, and caps.
"But things won’t be the same without him."
Jee has operated Hello Deli since two years before Letterman took up residence next door, an event that Jee said transformed the entire neighborhood for the better. “You could see the change literally overnight,” Jee said. And Jee’s appearances on “The Late Show” only helped Hello Deli’s business. “It’s been a blessing,” he said.
The shop’s menu is a hat tip to Dave and the “Late Show” staffers who helped put Hello Deli on the map, but will things change once a new comedian takes the show’s helm?
"I’m not going to remove ‘The Letterman,’" Jee declared without a moment’s hesitation, referring to a hearty hoagie of turkey, ham, American cheese, bell peppers, lettuce, and tomato dressed with mayonnaise, oil, and vinegar.
Nor will he retire “The Shaffer,” a hero named for Letterman’s long-time bandleader, Paul Shaffer, who will be hanging up his sunglasses upon Letterman’s departure. The sandwich—which is stuffed with a chicken cutlet, American cheese, sweet peppers, lettuce, tomato, and mayo—happens to be Jee’s best-selling sandwich, beating out even the popular “Letterman.”
Not that sales have anything to do with Jee’s decision. “They’re here to stay,” and that’s because of all the show has done for Hello Deli over the years. “No one is going to convince me otherwise.”
Of course, he might add a new sandwich to welcome whoever steps into Letterman’s shoes. “But they’re going to have to be worthy of it,” Jee hedged.
Perhaps Stephen Colbert will be up for the challenge?