Family Fare: Baltimore Jewish Food Businesses Part 4

Posted on May 17, 2017 by

Article by Jennifer Vess. Originally published in Generations 2011 – 2012: Jewish Foodways

Part IV: The Ma and Pa Shop: “My mother did all the cooking. We did all the rest.”[1]

Miss parts 1-3? Start here.

Family meant everything to the food businesses of the Jewish Baltimore community.  The typical pattern was similar to the story of the Rodbells – the father started a business based on the skills he already had, the mother took care of the children and home as well as helping out in the store, and the kids were put to work on the weekends and before and after school.  The store was often the family home with living quarters above or behind the business space.

Itzhak and Leah Brotman in front of their butcher shop on Lombard Street. Itzhak’s brother, Hyman, was also a kosher butcher. Courtesy of Saul H. Brotman. JMM 1991.170.6

Itzhak and Leah Brotman in front of their butcher shop on Lombard Street. Itzhak’s brother, Hyman, was also a kosher butcher. Courtesy of Saul H. Brotman. JMM 1991.170.6

Some stories varied of course.  Joe Mandell was a young man when he took over the deli on Lombard Street where he had worked for several years.  Rather than a wife and children helping out, Joe’s father and stepmother worked for him.  In fact his stepmother did all of the cooking at his first small operation on Lombard Street.  According to Mandell, “She was an excellent cook, her soups were like good wine.”[2]  At one point, Harry Attman, founder of Attman’s Delicatessen, owned and operated two stores several blocks apart – he ran one while his wife, Ida, ran the other.  While many people talk about husbands and fathers starting businesses, other stories have the wives and mothers using their skills to support the family.  Bluefeld’s Catering was established by Bessie Bluefeld, and Rena Kolman remembers the mother of a friend who “had a little grocery store that was made from a front room.  She came from the old country, no husband, and she raised three children there.”[3] However the store started, it all came back to family.

Hyman Brotman’s daughter Sylvia Brotman Spivak outside the poultry shop that she ran with her husband. Photograph by John McGrain. JMM 1995.187.13

Hyman Brotman’s daughter Sylvia Brotman Spivak outside the poultry shop that she ran with her husband. Photograph by John McGrain. JMM 1995.187.13

For some families opening up a little food shop was a means to another end.  Mothers and fathers may have needed the help of their children to make a living, but they had their eyes on different goals for the futures of their offspring.  Many wanted their children to get through school and move on to different professions.  Ida Attman urged her son Edward not to stay in the deli business (though her son Seymour did eventually take over).[4]   Rena Kolman’s parents made school the priority and hired a girl to help in their confectionary store rather than putting their children to work.  Without a second generation to carry on the business they eventually closed the store.[5]

Morris Hack worked at his father’s grocery store on George Street. Courtesy of Mamie Rosenfield Baker. JMM 1990.12.6c

Morris Hack worked at his father’s grocery store on George Street. Courtesy of Mamie Rosenfield Baker. JMM 1990.12.6c

Other businesses stayed in the family for generations.  Some of the most familiar and well-loved food businesses that came out of the Jewish community in Baltimore passed from parents to their adult children and sometimes even their grandchildren.  Many of those businesses, such as Hendlers Creamery, Saval Food Products, and Tulkoff’s Horseradish, became (or still are) large enterprises that reached beyond the local community to a regional or national level.  Other shops, like Attmans Deli remained local physically, but still draw in crowds from well beyond the neighborhood.

Continue to Part V: Mechanization and Innovation: “He had to get more machines to keep producing.”

Notes:

[1] Sid Mandell quoted in, Gil Sandler, “Taking Orders,” Baltimore Jewish Times, January 26, 2007.

[2] Joe Mandell interview, December 30, 1992, OH 319, JMM.

[3] Rena Kolman interview, May 18, 2006, OH 684, JMM.

[4] Edward Attman interview, November 28, 2005, OH 678, JMM.

[5] Rena Kolman interview, May 18, 2006, OH 684, JMM.

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