Family Fare: Baltimore Jewish Food Businesses Part 4

Posted on May 17th, 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.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Bedlam with Corned Beef on the Side: The Jewish Delicatessen in Baltimore Pt. 10

Posted on May 3rd, 2017 by

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

Part X: The Longest Survivor

Missed parts 1 – 9? Start here.

Painted metal and wood sign advertising Attman’s corned beef sandwiches., c. 1930. JMM 1992.121.1

Painted metal and wood sign advertising Attman’s corned beef sandwiches., c. 1930. JMM 1992.121.1

Attman’s Delicatessen is the longest survivor of the East Baltimore delis, still busy on Lombard Street where it is now one of the few remainders of the community which once thrived there. It remains in the family, although the Attmans have prospered and now hold extensive real estate and other businesses interests. Yet it was one of the most recent delis to convert from a take-out grocery to a sit-down restaurant.

Harry Attman came to Baltimore around 1920. An immigrant from a village near Kiev who had learned the grocery trade in Providence, Rhode Island, he was the oldest child of a large family and the first to immigrate. He brought the others over, including his parents, one at a time. He and his wife Ida, from Poland, purchased a small grocery at 2000 East Baltimore Street. They continued to live there even after 1933, when they acquired the beginnings of today’s deli, a small grocery store at 1019 East Lombard Street, then owned by Nathan and Elise Weinstein.[1] They bought out their partner in the purchase, Lipshitz, by 1940, but continued to call the place A. and L. Cut Rate Grocery Company for several years. Meanwhile, Harry’s brother Joseph and his brother-on-law Morris Sefret purchased the Atlantic Import Company, only one block down Lombard Street, from Philip and Pincus Cohen.[2] Abraham, Anna, Joseph, and Shmare Attman were earning their livings at Atlantic Import in 1937.

enu for A & L Cut Rate Grocery Co., Harry Attman’s. JMM 1989.47.14

enu for A & L Cut Rate Grocery Co., Harry Attman’s. JMM 1989.47.14

Photographs and price lists from the 1930s[3] show Harry Attman’s carrying on a bustling trade in Jewish food specialties, especially at Passover. Mail orders from customers and retail groceries far and wide formed a large component of the business. Besides packaged matzah and other kosher-for-Passover products, Attman’s offered coffees, teas, nuts, dried fruit, spices, herring, and delicatessen meats. The store cured its own pickles; raw vegetables came from the Marsh Market near the Fallsway at a quarter a barrel, and McCormick & Co. and Baltimore Spice ground loads of garlic to a special course blend for its use.[4]

The nature of the business changed dramatically during the 1940s. As the Jewish community moved away from East Baltimore and supermarkets drew away price-conscious grocery shoppers, Harry Attman and his son Seymour, who increasingly helped with the business, focused more on sliced meats and the luncheon trade of hot dogs and sandwiches. Although AHarry and Ida were religious people and kept a kosher home, the corned beef and tongue sold at Attman’s came from non-kosher sources and the delicatessen never presented itself as kosher. Indeed, although during the war years the local rabbis successfully enforced the observance of Sabbath, afterwards Attman’s and the other shops on Lombard Street defied their authority and opened on Saturdays.

Interior of Attman’s delicatessen, by Elinor B. Cahn, 1984. JMM 1985.31.2

Interior of Attman’s delicatessen, by Elinor B. Cahn, 1984. JMM 1985.31.2

After the war Attman’s proudly promoted the slogan “Home of Fifty Sandwiches.” Leaning up against a counter in the narrow, crowded shop, patrons could eat sandwich combinations Harry and Seymour Attman invented or borrowed from famous uptown delis such as Nates and Leon’s, and Ballow’s, or the Carnegie Del in New York. Five years after his father’s death in 1968 Seymour Attman opened the “Kibitz Room,” decorated with posters and old photographs; customers carried their sandwiches over on plastic trays. Since then the clientele has become increasingly non-Jewish, now ranging up to 65 percent during luncheon hours.

More than two hundred delicatessens are listed in today’s Yellow Pages – some of them direct or indirect descendants of specialty grocery stores established by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe in Baltimore decades ago; others related to them only be association, real or intended, with the concept of a lively, aromatic, ethnic sandwich shop. The remarkable personalities of the great delicatessens and the flavors of their foodstuffs constitute a uniquely American Jewish heritage that has enriched Baltimore as a whole.

~The End~

Notes:

[1] Baltimore City Directory, 1937.

[2] Interview with Seymour Attman (December 1992).

[3] Jewish Museum of Maryland, 1990.89.

[4] Interview with Seymour Attman (September 1992).

Posted in jewish museum of maryland