The sign outside the Ed Sullivan Theatre has come down; after 22 years, the Late Show with David Letterman, which was filmed at the Manhattan venue, is over.

Next to the theatre's stage door, however, remains the Hello Deli, selling its famous sandwiches named after Late Show staffers. Nostalgic customers still ask for selfies with owner Rupert Jee, an unlikely on-screen collaborator of Letterman's.

Born in New York to parents from Guangdong province, Jee had never aspired to be on television. "I don't like performance. I have no talent for it," he says.

It was a childhood culinary rebellion that led him, in the most roundabout of ways, to end up on the Late Show.

"My parents always cooked Chinese food but I loved American food, so I learned how to make sandwiches. I made them for myself first, and then for the whole family," he says.

After graduating with a degree in economics, Jee ran a garment business for more than a decade, until 1991, when he returned to sandwiches.

The deli he bought was next to the Ed Sullivan Theatre, where The Late Show debuted in 1993. Show staff started patronising Jee's shop and, that year, he was interviewed in the segment titled "Meet the Neighbours".

"That was a surprise visit. I didn't want to be on TV," he says.

Over the next couple of decades, despite his aversion to the camera, Jee appeared in more than 200 episodes of the late night talk show, which at its peak attracted 15 million viewers.

In June 2005, Jee went skydiving for the show (he asked the instructor, "Have you ever died?"); and the recurring "Psychic Sandwich" slot would see clairvoyant Deborah Lynn blindfolded and asked to guess which of his Letterman-themed sandwiches she was eating (she got it right just once).

But it was the 1995 skit "Dave and Rupert bother people" that made Jee's name: the deli owner was dispatched into New York dressed as a hot dog vendor or newspaper seller, for example, while Letterman remotely told him to say things to passers-by such as, "Buy a magazine or I'll take off my pants."

In the show's second to last episode Letterman gave his long-time collaborator a warm farewell.

Jee says he won't be seeking another spot in the limelight: "I still don't like performance!"

Those who want a Letterman sandwich (turkey , ham , cheese, sweet peppers, mayo, oil and vinegar in a hero bun; US$7.95) had better hurry: Jee says they won't be on the menu indefinitely.

"Stephen Colbert is coming," Jee says, of the Late Show's incoming host. "I don't want to offend anyone."