Unwrapping the enigmatic: Louise’s Italian Restaurant
A blog post by JHU student Evan Fowler.
A 1963 photograph (viewable at the Baltimore Museum of Industry’s website) showcases an unidentified waitress throwing pizza dough in the air at Louise’s Italian Restaurant at their 8126 Liberty Road location. The picture, with its flying dough, picturesque low price menu and stainless-steel oven, immediately captivated me. It became a part of my research portfolio for one of my spring semester classes, Staging Suburbia with the Jewish Museum of Maryland. As an outgoing undergraduate finishing his Jewish Studies minor and with a penchant towards 1950s nostalgia, I could not resist investigating this scene.
After a little digging, I discovered a 1964 advertisement from The Baltimore Sun, which mentioned additional franchise locations for Louise’s on Park Heights, Reisterstown Road, West Cold Spring, Liberty Heights and the Alameda. These locations beget a new question: why was there a chain of Italian restaurants sprouting up across Baltimore, especially in predominately Jewish neighborhoods? What was so attractive about these locations that made the owners want to place their businesses there?
This investigation evolved with a new revelation: that Jews owned the restaurants themselves. A Baltimore County Liquor Board record from 1963, in deciding whether or not to grant a liquor license to Louise’s Rockdale location (the one pictured), noted the owners of the shop as “John Gould; his wife, Mrs. Sydell Gould, and Arnold M. Snyder.” Cross-referencing these names with one of the city directories from the period, I was able to find three potential matches for John Gould, and one match for Arnold M. Synder. Using a city map, it was possible to see out of the three possible John Goulds, one lived in Pikesville, one in Towson and one in East Baltimore, while the only Arnold M. Snyder that was listed lived in Randallstown. While it is guesswork to assume their neighborhood meant they were Jewish, it was certain that they could have lived in predominately Jewish areas.
The advertisements for the stores in The Baltimore Sun, imitated the English of an Italian immigrant. For example, in the April 19, 1964 paper, the headline for the Louise’s advertisement reads: “That’s for me- a pizza! That’s for me- a sub!” There is also a smaller text beneath it that reads, “Thatsa delish!” Two months later, in the July 21, 1964 paper, the advertisement asks the reader, “Could it be you’ve never tasted real pizza?” It goes on to describe the uniqueness of a Louise’s pizza and of the inadequacy of “store-bought frozen concoctions.” The tagline from the first advertisement is repeated: “thatsa delish!”
What then, is the answer to this riddle? What motivated these owners to open an Italian restaurant in these neighborhoods? Was there some familial connection to Italian cooking, or was it a profit-maximizing endeavor, capitalizing on Old World authenticity? Were the owners trying to appeal to a broader audience, including gentiles? Why choose pizzas and grinders instead of pastrami and matzah ball soup?
The story of Louise’s, like many during my experience with the Jewish Museum of Maryland, remains hazy. My father, who has been a police officer for over forty years, would surely understand the detective-like work that has gone into this research, and other projects undertaken by my classmates. The story of suburban migration is clouded and murky. There is no one explanation for it, in the same way that there cannot be a simplification about Louise’s. That is what I have taken away from this semester. Being a historian is about unwrapping the enigmatic, trying to comprehend the inscrutable. It may not always be possible to find explanations. But sometimes the questions can be just as interesting without answers.