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.

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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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