Family Fare Part III
Article by Jennifer Vess. Originally published in Generations 2011 – 2012: Jewish Foodways
Part III: Learning the Trade: “Baking was the only trade he knew.”
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.
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.” 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.
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.” 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.
 Arnold Zerivitz quoted in: Gil Sandler, “Titans of Taste,” Baltimore Jewish Times, August 22, 2003.
 Seymour Attman interview, September 20, 1982, OH 0162, JMM.
 Louis and Phlip Bluefeld interview, August 6, 1979, OH 75, JMM.