Family Fare: Baltimore Jewish Food Businesses Part 3

Posted on May 15th, 2017 by

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

Part III: Learning the Trade: “Baking was the only trade he knew.”[1]

Miss parts 1-2? Start here.

Why choose to sell food?  In an oral history, Seymour Attman, whose father started Attman’s Deli, described each and every store that lined Lombard Street when he was a child in the 1930s.  Again and again and again he mentioned stores that sold food.  In fact, except for an occasional hardware store or clothing store, every business sold food.  Delis, bakeries, butcher shops, and confectionaries packed the blocks.  The heart of the East Baltimore Jewish community seemed to be all about food.

1900 U.S. Census, Baltimore. This census page shows Isaac Hendler, occupation dairyman, and his son Manuel, who later started Hendler’s Creamery.

1900 U.S. Census, Baltimore. This census page shows Isaac Hendler, occupation dairyman, and his son Manuel, who later started Hendler’s Creamery.

Part of the reason so many shops could exist side-by-side was because they sold different kinds of food.  The early twentieth century was characterized by specialization.  As Seymour Attman said, “In those days…everything was a specialty.  You went to the grocery store to buy your groceries, you went to the dairy store to buy your dairies, you went to…the butcher shop, or whatever, everything was their own characteristic store.”[2]  This allowed a long string of stores to share the same block without directly competing.

The nature of food service at that time created the ‘bakery on every corner’ phenomenon (and the deli on every block, the butcher shop just across the way, etc.).  People functioned largely within their neighborhoods.  Not everyone owned cars, so people relied on public transportation or walking to get to work or do their shopping.  Also, families didn’t have a way to store large quantities of food in their kitchens so they shopped more often, making short frequent trips to local markets necessary.  This meant that most of the stores they wanted were on the street where they lived, a block or two over, or a short trip on the street car.   The community could support a large number of small food businesses, many within walking distance of each other as well as the homes of their patrons.

Herman Wartzman and his niece Esther Levin outside the Wartzman Bakery at 913 E. Lombard Street. Wartzman learned to be a baker in the Russian Army. Courtesy of Paul Wartzman. JMM CP14.2007.1

Herman Wartzman and his niece Esther Levin outside the Wartzman Bakery at 913 E. Lombard Street. Wartzman learned to be a baker in the Russian Army. Courtesy of Paul Wartzman. JMM CP14.2007.1

But why did the store owners choose to make their living from food?  One simple answer is – they chose what they knew.

A business owner’s familiarity with food influenced his or her decision to open a shop.  Many proprietors had learned their trade in Europe, sometimes from their family (as Solomon Rodbell had), sometimes from apprenticeships, sometimes in the army.  Bessie Bluefeld, the founder of Bluefeld catering, had grown up in Russia with parents “who were really, if you want to say caterers, they were caterers in Russia, because when people came from one shtetl to the next, prominent people, they would say, ‘Where shall we stay?’ and, of course, they were told to go to the Biskers.”[3]  Both the founder of Pariser’s bakery and Herman Wartzman of Wartzman’s bakery had learned to be bakers in the European armies in which they served before leaving for America.  Immigrants brought their skills with them to the United States and often passed those skills on to their American-born children.  Selling food has not always been a highly lucrative business, but it earned a living for families and though money may not have been plentiful, food was.

Continue to Part IV: The Ma and Pa Shop: “My mother did all the cooking. We did all the rest.”

Notes:

 [1] Arnold Zerivitz quoted in: Gil Sandler, “Titans of Taste,” Baltimore Jewish Times, August 22, 2003.

[2] Seymour Attman interview, September 20, 1982, OH 0162, JMM.

[3] Louis and Phlip Bluefeld interview, August 6, 1979, OH 75, JMM.

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Family Fare: Baltimore Jewish Food Businesses Part 2

Posted on May 10th, 2017 by

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

Part II: Immigration: “In the United States they would have an opportunity.”[1]

Missed part I? Start here.

The streets of America may not have been paved with gold at the beginning of the twentieth century, but immigrants flooded into the United States looking for opportunities.  A large number of Jewish immigrants chose food as their opportunity.  New arrivals could begin modestly and gradually build a business, supporting their families and even giving a boost to others.

Sol Grossfeld a baker from Radom, Poland immigrated to the United States in the 1920s and established the Warsaw Bakery with partner Solomon Hartman. Courtesy of Mrs. Gertrude Grossfeld Katz. JMM 1992.211.1

Sol Grossfeld a baker from Radom, Poland immigrated to the United States in the 1920s and established the Warsaw Bakery with partner Solomon Hartman. Courtesy of Mrs. Gertrude Grossfeld Katz. JMM 1992.211.1

Immigrants did not often arrive in America with much money, but even so many sought to support themselves rather than relying on employment in someone else’s business.  The Lozinsky family, for example, started as small as anyone could.  They “would take big baskets to the fish market, buy fish, and bring it back. Then they would stand on the sidewalk and sell the fish.”[2]   Others sold out of carts or stalls on the street or out of rooms in their homes.

These small shops supported more than just the immigrants who started them.  The benefits often spilled out to others in the immigrant Jewish community.  Once settled in America, men and women helped to bring over siblings and cousins and other extended family, sometimes giving them jobs until the new arrivals could move out on their own.  As Milton Schwartz of Crystal’s bakery explained, “Everybody that my parents would bring over from Europe, they gave them a job in the bakery. I had several cousins working there. Until they got their start in the New World and could go out on their own, they always had a job in our bakery doing something.”[3]

Nathan London, born in Russia, opened a kosher butcher shop on Lombard Street, c. 1900. Courtesy of George London. JMM 2001.109.1

Nathan London, born in Russia, opened a kosher butcher shop on Lombard Street, c. 1900. Courtesy of George London. JMM 2001.109.1

Some of the more successful businesses with large workforces gave jobs to new immigrants who were not relatives, perhaps remembering their own struggles trying to make a living.  Gustav Brunn (later the creator of Old Bay and owner of his own large company, Baltimore Spice) worked briefly for Wolf Salganik, the meat processor before striking out on his own.[4]  As late as the 1980s, Brunn’s workforce included a large number of recent immigrants from Europe and Asia.

In some cases settled immigrant families offered homes to newcomers.  Charles Bluefeld, whose wife later started Bluefeld catering, came to Baltimore without any connections.  When he immigrated in 1906 he boarded with the Schreiber family, who ran a meat business (and later a supermarket), though he had no connection to the family and did not work for them.  From earning money to providing a home food gave many immigrants a start.

Continue to Part III: Learning the Trade: “Baking was the only trade he knew.”

Notes:

[1] Dora Silber and Kathryn Sollins interview, n.d.,  OH 123, JMM.

[2] ibid.

[3] Milton Schwartz interview, November 9, 2005, OH 676, JMM.

[4] Louis and Philip Bluefeld, interview, August 6, 1979, OH 75, JMM; Gustav and Ralph Brunn interview, May 7, 1980, OH 112, JMM.

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Family Fare: Baltimore Jewish Food Businesses Part 1

Posted on May 8th, 2017 by

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

Pauline Lozinsky, Lilly Lozinsky, Elwood Sacks, Morris Freiner, Bernard Davis,  Joseph Lozinsky, Al Caplan, and Alex Levenson  inside Joseph Lozinsky’s Deli located at 3523 Park Heights Avenue, 1939.  Courtesy of Pauline Weinstein.  JMM 1999.35.2

Pauline Lozinsky, Lilly Lozinsky, Elwood Sacks, Morris Freiner, Bernard Davis, Joseph Lozinsky, Al Caplan, and Alex Levenson inside Joseph Lozinsky’s Deli located at 3523 Park Heights Avenue, 1939. Courtesy of Pauline Weinstein. JMM 1999.35.2

In 1894 Solomon Rodbell, a baker by trade, left Poland with his wife Fannie and their two-year-old daughter, Dora, to settle in America.  They chose to make Baltimore their home, probably to be close to Solomon’s brother Abram, who had immigrated several years before.  Abram Rodbell was also a baker, had in fact been Solomon’s teacher back in Poland, and ran his own shop in Baltimore.  For a year Solomon worked for his brother until he and Fannie moved into a bakery shop on Pratt Street to start up their own business.  The bakery was also their home.  They lived in the basement with their growing family until finding a new shop some years later on Lombard Street.[1]

At age seventeen their oldest child, Dora, married Isaac Silber, a young immigrant who also worked on Lombard Street.  Isaac, called Ike, grew up in Poland where he had been apprenticed as a baker.  He, too, came to Baltimore to be closer to family who had left Poland before him.  At first he worked for other bakers (most notably Parisers, well-established at the time and still in existence today), but eventually he opened his own shop and after he a Dora married they took over her father’s business.  This became Silber’s Bakery, an institution in Baltimore, first in the Jewish community, then all over the city.  Dora and Ike’s children grew up in the bakery, just as Dora had grown up in her father’s.  They worked there as children and took over its operation as adults.  The business passed through successive generations of Silbers, expanding into thirty-six stores around Baltimore before closing in 1980.[2]

Tthe Rodbell family: David, Dora Rodbell Silber, Isidore, Fanny Kirsch Rodbell, Solomon, Kathryn Rodbell Sollins, and Jacob, 1905. JMM 1995.160.1

Tthe Rodbell family: David, Dora Rodbell Silber, Isidore, Fanny Kirsch Rodbell, Solomon, Kathryn Rodbell Sollins, and Jacob, 1905. JMM 1995.160.1

This story of a Jewish family making a living through food is one that has been repeated dozens, perhaps hundreds of times in the Baltimore Jewish community since the nineteenth century.  For many people, providing food for others was and still is how they survive, and how they thrive.  Food is their business.  And in the Baltimore Jewish community, business is often family.

As the Jewish population in Baltimore grew during the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, the number of delis and dairies, butcher shops and bakeries, restaurants and grocery stores, fishmongeries and confectionaries owned by Jews grew as well.  Families saw these businesses through every stage, opening as small local operations, directing them through the excitement and turmoil of decades of technological and market changes, to the thriving or closing of the business.  These food businesses, which lined Lombard Street, peppered the inner city, and opened along Park Heights Avenue, impacted not only those who owned them, but the people who ate their goods.  Whether or not these food businesses still continue today, they influenced the community around them – the Jewish community of Baltimore and the larger community as well.

Continue to Part II: Immigration: “In the United States they would have an opportunity.”

 Notes:

[1] The story of the Rodbells and the Silbers can be heard through five oral histories at the Jewish Museum of  Maryland. Rosalie S. Abrams interview, January 23, 1977, OH 46, Jewish Museum of Maryland; Dora Silber interview, June 11, 1978, OH 76, JMM; Rosalie S. Abrams interview, November 30, 1979,  OH 98, JMM; Dora Silber and Kathryn Sollins interview, n.d., OH 123, JMM; Kathryn Sollins September 1982, OH 164, JMM.

[2] ibid.

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