Bedlam with Corned Beef on the Side: The Jewish Delicatessen in Baltimore Pt. 5

Posted on April 17th, 2017 by

Written by Barry Kessler. Originally published in Generations 1993, reprinted in Generations 2011 – 2012: Jewish Foodways.

Part V: Heyshe Cohen and a Place to Sit

Miss parts 1 – 4? Start here.

Harry Cohen’s delicatessen in East Baltimore (1400 block of E. Baltimore Street), 1919. Gift of Sidney Cohen, JMM 1988.132.1

Harry Cohen’s delicatessen in East Baltimore (1400 block of E. Baltimore Street), 1919. Gift of Sidney Cohen, JMM 1988.132.1

The earliest Baltimore delicatessen for which a full history can be given is that of Harry E. Cohen, who purchased the shop at 1427 East Baltimore Street from Kalman Lapides in 1919. Harry, or Heyshe as his friends called him in Yiddish, came to Baltimore at age 16, around 1906, with his brother Sam. His parents were petty tradespeople who sold various wares and foodstuffs in a village square in the Russian provice of Chernigov. Harry first worked at Schloss Brothers as a buttonhole-maker and presser. In 1913 he married Sarah Kaplansky, just off the boat from Novozybkov, Russia, and they had three children.

By 1919 the Cohens had saved enough money to purchase the little delicatessen. They lived above the shop and Mrs. Cohen took in boarders and laundry to make ends meet. She also waited on customers and prepared noodle kugel, potato latkes, knishes, and challah for sale. According to his son, most of Cohen’s business was takeout – the bagging of a “few pennies’ worth” of bread and meat with a dollop of mustard in a paper cone for workingmen’s lunches.[1] The meats were corned beef, pickled for thiry days in barrels of brine, as well as rolled spiced beef, rollade (meat roll), and hard and soft salamis. Other specialties were sauerkraut and pickled onions, cucumbers and green tomatoes.

Cohen claimed in a 1963 reminiscence to have been the first delicatessen in Baltimore to provide a place for people to sit and eat inside the shop.[2] The little wooden bench was soon filled at all times of day with customers who congregated to exchange news over sandwiches and snacks. Many came to discuss, in Yiddish with bits of English, the politics of the Arbeiter Ring [Workmen’s Circle], with Cohen and his friend Henry Turk, the managing editor of the Baltimore office of the Yiddish newspaper Forverts. Indeed, a photograph of the shop, probably taken in the 1920s, shows the bench and a chair squeezed along one wall, across from a counter and rows of shelves stacks with provisions, mostly bottled or canned.

For a time, Harry Cohen lived in Washington, DC, but he had the misfortune to select a location on Park and Georgia Avenues where the first self-service Giant supermarket was to open. Competition from the discount grocery drove him back to Baltimore, where the Cohens became proprietors of the Sanitary Delicatessen on North Avenue near Linden. From the 1960s to 1982 the family operated the Suburban House Restaurant on Reisterstown Road.

Harry Cohen’s little bench was a transitional stage, presaging the arrival of the full-blown delicatessen restaurant. In Europe, village taverns and city restaurants owned by Jews served delicatessen foods, but there was no precedent for the bounteous counter, laden with specialty groceries, meats, and fish, at which one could buy sandwiches, soups, and whole meals to take out or eat on the premises. Yet this formula would be elaborated with great success as a uniquely American Jewish phenomenon and would take its place as a new type of ethnic restaurant.

Continue to Part VI: The Full-Scale Delicatessen Restaurant

Notes:

[1] Telephone interview with Sidney Cohen {December 1992).

[2] Harry E. Cohen, “I Remember….Specialties of an Early Delicatessen,” Baltimore Sun, April 21, 1963, magazine, p. 2.

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Bedlam with Corned Beef on the Side: The Jewish Delicatessen in Baltimore Pt. 4

Posted on April 12th, 2017 by

Written by Barry Kessler. Originally published in Generations 1993, reprinted in Generations 2011 – 2012: Jewish Foodways.

Part IV: A Decade of Deli

Miss parts 1 – 3? Start here.

In 1907, of the eight delicatessen shops identified by the City Directory, two were in West Baltimore and six in East Baltimore. Harry Caplan, Harry Goodman, and Frank Hurwitz were joined by Charles Norberg on Central Avenue and Adolph Rothman on Bank Street. Wolf Salganik, a butcher who had been in East Baltimore since at least 1899, was listed as the owner of a delicatessen at 925 East Lombard Street.[1] L. Strauss and Company, near Lexington Market, appeared as a delicatessen only in the alphabetical listing. Given the name and location, this business was probably owned by, and catered to, German Jews.

In 1909 – 1910, the Baltimore City Directory listed seventeen delicatessens, thirteen of them in East Baltimore. Harry Caplan, Harry Goodman, Frank Hurwitz, Herman Buderak, Joseph Edlavitch and the Salganik Meat Products Company were clustered in four adjoining blocks of East Baltimore, Lombard and High Streets, while Joseph Amdur, Margaret Flum, Philip Resnick, Abram Linder, Ellen Jolden, Jacob Wollwich, and Kalman Lapides ranged further east. Two new delicatessens were located in the growing Jewish area near West North Avenue and two were near Lexington Market.

One of the delicatessen owners in 1909 – 1910, was Kalman Lapides. Lapides, a tailor, had a grocery on a South Baltimore corner in 1900. Perhaps the shop failed, since two years later he was again listed as a tailor, now on Little Gough Street in East Baltimore. From 1906 until 1919 he had a delicatessen at 1427 East Baltimore Street between Eden and Caroline.

By 1912, several non-Jewish establishments were among the fourteen delicatessens listed in the City Directory, including Louis H. Rettberg, R. Welforth and Son, John E. Schaninger, and Max Votel. Votel’s advertisement described him as a “wholesale and retail dealer in German produce.” The word “delicatessen” had expanded beyond the immigrant community and was being applied more generally to fancy groceries.

Continue to Part V: Heyshe Cohen and a Place to Sit

Notes:

[1] Salganik, an immigrant from Kiev, was listed as a delicatessen owner, but most likely his business was largely in raw meat. In the early 1930s Salganik went in to manufacturing delicatessen products and selling beef and pork at wholesale. From a large plant at Lombard and Exeter Streets he supplied numberous retail delis and groceries with corned beef, pastrami, rolled beef, salami, bologna, frankfurters, meat loaves, and sausage, as well as cured, smoked and cooked hams and bacon. Later he developed an extensive business as supplier to the Army and supermarkets. (Interview with Gordon Salganik, August 1993.)

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Bedlam with Corned Beef on the Side: The Jewish Delicatessen in Baltimore Pt. 3

Posted on April 10th, 2017 by

Written by Barry Kessler. Originally published in Generations 1993, reprinted in Generations 2011 – 2012: Jewish Foodways.

Part III: Caplan’s Delicatessen

Miss parts 1 – 2? Start here.

Caplan and Co, advertisement, 1933. Gift of Mrs. Renee Piel. JMM 1993.104.3.4

Caplan and Co, advertisement, 1933. Gift of Mrs. Renee Piel. JMM 1993.104.3.4

Harry R. Caplan’s was the longest-lived of this first crop of delicatessens, remaining in business – although in changed form – from 1897 into the 1960s. After several years in Baltimore as a tailor, Caplan had appeared under “provisions” in the City Directory as far back as 1898 and in 1904, in the alphabetical section of the Directory, his trade was listed as a delicatessen owner. His shop grew and moved around the neighborhood, from 911 to 915 east Baltimore Street, to 910 Watson, to 918 East Lombard, settling the 1920s at 23 South High Street (between Baltimore and Lombard Streets).

Caplan’s delicatessen is remembered today especially for the fragrant barrels of pickles and olives (maslines in Yiddish) in front of its counter, and for the high-quality sliced meats that people came to buy on Saturday nights. A 1933 calendar booklet issued in English and Yiddish by the shop claimed that it was the largest firm of its type in America.[1] Advertisements in the booklet for a wide range of groceries promoted brand-name products packaged by Rokeach, Manischewitz, and Goodman and Sons; the shop carried a full line of Carmel brand strictly kosher meats, including tongue, pastrami, and “wonder sausage.”

The shop sold many products it produced itself, such as Belvedere Coffee, “roasted and blended by us.” Fourteen varieties of fish were smoked daily by Caplan, including shad, Kieler sprotten (sprats from Kiel), capchunkes (salt-cured, air-dried whitefish), rybetz (Russian for big fish), and belerivitze, and he also imported fish directly from Scotland and Alaska – “packed by us in our specially equipped factory” and marketing in glass jars under the Gibralter label.

In 1940 Harry Caplan gave up retailing, turning over his distribution of name-brand groceries to the Joffe Brothers of West Pratt Street.[2] Trading as the Southern Food Corporation at 5 Lloyd Street, he was the regional distributer for the Hygrade Foods line of delicatessen meats from New York. Harry Saval, founder of what is now the largest distributor of deli meats in Baltimore, worked for [Harry Caplan] during this time.

Continue to Park IV: A Decade of Deli

Notes:

[1] Jewish Museum of Maryland, Gift of Renee Piel, 1993.104.4

[2] Baltimore Jewish Times, March 29, 1940.

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