If the thought of slinging sandwiches and bagels in Hong Kong seems strange, consider the chef doing the slinging. Adam Levin, who co-owns the shop with his wife, Tammy, is hardly your average diner drone. Instead, he's a five-star chef who counts Wolfgang Puck and Jean-Louis Palladin among his mentors and boasts a résumé that includes stints at Spago in Las Vegas and Aria in Beijing. After arriving in Hong Kong in 2001 to head the Great Eagle Hotel's Bostonian, he began having entrepreneurial aspirations when Tammy developed a craving for tacos—hardly an easy find in his new city. The Californian couple started asking around to see if others were feeling the same home-style longings, and discovered an eager market for Mexican (and responded with Taco Loco in June last year). But they also found an even bigger craving lurking in Hong Kong expat stomachs: deli food. "We found this craziness, this fervor for deli," says Levin.
Enter Archie B's. Tucked in the city's trendy Soho district, the restaurant, tel: (852) 2522 1262, has become a one-stop shop for familiar comfort foods that used to only exist Stateside. Think pastrami sandwiches and chunky potato salads. Rice Krispie treats and black-and-white cookies (good luck finding those anywhere else in Hong Kong outside of Seinfeld reruns). There's cheesesteaks for transplanted Philadelphians, and subs stuffed with roast turkey and cranberry sauce. "People would like to assume Americans go into McDonald's and go, 'Ah, home!' But it's not like that," Levin says. "As an expat you miss stuff."
And expats know that when it comes to those desperately missed foods, there's no place like home. So, to win over the die-hard New Yorkers with his deli, Levin says he knew only the real stuff would do. "My suppliers tell me I can get cheap pastrami from Australia," he laughs. "Right." Instead, Levin goes straight to the source. His rye bread is par-baked in New York ovens (with New York water), then finished in Hong Kong. His salami comes from the famed Katz's delicatessen. And the bagels—which will fool even the most hardened Manhattan bagel-snob—are baked daily with dough shipped from H&H Bagels. "Why be New York-style? Why not be authentic New York?" he asks. "You can do that now. It's a global village."
In Levin's global village, breads and bagel dough are transported frozen by boat, while less easily preserved treats are brought in via suitcase or FedEx shipment. And said shipments have recently increased in frequency thanks to their most popular dessert: a collection of cakes that positively ooze with nostalgic sponginess, gooey creamy centers and utter American-ness—Twinkies, Suzie Q's and Ho Hos.
The sandwiches and snack cakes have proved to be such a success that Levin says he hopes to win over more than carb-craving expats. But teaching a stable of local restaurant pros to find their inner short-order cook hasn't been quite as easy. "We've had these accomplished Chinese chefs trying to learn to make a Reuben," Levin laughs. "It's been pretty funny."