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Object of the Month: August 2013 0 Comment(s)

Object No.: 2005.5.5
Donor: Seymour Rich
Description: Rich’s Famous Cherry Blintzes box, c.1950s. Includes color illustration of blintzes, instructions for use, and list of ingredients.

Background: In a city not known as a delicatessen kingdom, Seymour Rich reigned as the “Blintz King” for decades. His mouthwatering blintzes fed hungry State Department officials, ambassadors, as well as everyday Washington workers looking for authentic deli fare.

Twenty-one-year-old Rich opened his first deli, Seymour's, at 6th and H Streets, NW, in 1939. By 1945, he had moved to 19th and E Streets, NW, to run Rich’s Restaurant.  For more than 28 years, Rich’s menu included blintzes, chopped liver, and overstuffed corned beef sandwiches. The restaurant served a mix of federal government employees from nearby federal agencies as well as employees of the neighboring American Red Cross headquarters. Rich’s son, Ronald, recalls, “…you may not believe me when I tell you, but people were waiting in line to the curb to get in at lunch. [Dad] would not seat two people at a table of four. They’d have to share with another group of one or two in order to fit everyone in at lunch.”

According to Ronald Rich, "the secret to the blintzes was hard work. I don’t know what made them great -- love and affection, I guess. We could not make them fast enough."

JHSGW Collection.

Soon the popular blintzes appeared in the frozen food aisle at Giant Food. Rich’s famous blintzes now appeared on plates across the greater Washington area.

In the 1970s, Rich opened an upscale restaurant, The Golden Table, in the Columbia Plaza complex near the State Department and the Kennedy Center. For 16 years, the restaurant was popular with State Department officials and ambassadors.

Rich’s restaurants were truly a family affair. Son Ronald who started by making sandwiches later became his father’s business partner; his wife, Florence, served as a hostess; and daughter, Jacqueline, a painter and sculptor, created restaurant decor. After selling The Golden Table, the Richs opened carryout delis throughout the city, including Rich’s Pickle Barrel, Rich’s Alley, Rich’s More Than A Deli, and Rich’s Table in Chevy Chase.

Do you have material documenting a local Jewish-owned business that you’d like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society’s collection?  Please contact us at info@jhsgw.org or (202) 789-0900.

This year, in conjunction with the Jewish Food Experience, our Objects of the Month feature DC's rich Jewish food history. For stories about this history and the latest on the local Jewish food scene – recipes, restaurants, chefs, events, and volunteer opportunities – visit jewishfoodexperience.com.

Object of the Month: July 2013 0 Comment(s)

Accession No.: 2012.36
Donor: Sheldon S. Cohen
Description: Videotaped oral history of the Honorable Sheldon S. Cohen featuring stories of growing up in Jewish Washington, his career in the federal government, and his leadership in the local Jewish community. Recorded in 2011.

Background: For many Jewish immigrants, the "mom and pop" business was vehicle for upward economic and social mobility. The dream of Jewish immigrants was to see their children become doctors, lawyers, teachers, and businessmen.

Sheldon S. Cohen certainly fulfilled this dream. His father, Herman, a Lithuanian immigrant, bought a business the year Cohen was born. Cohen grew up helping his father in the family business, Potomac Butter and Egg Co., which sold dairy products and eggs to grocery stores and small restaurants. Here are his recollections of working with his father:

[Dad's] warehouse was directly behind our house on Morse Street. It was an old stable. My mother kept the books. She had a little office in the basement of our house. I used to help her. My dad's business was just across the alley from our backyard, in this old hay warehouse. There were two or three other warehouses. And, in fact, the Sunshine Bakery was down the street in another old warehouse building behind another homes on that street.
[Dad] would have the eggs delivered from the farms or from wholesalers down in Shenandoah Valley, who would gather and deliver them to him. He would process them, clean them up…I used to grade them for size. I could pick up an egg and tell you whether it was a small, medium, or large and, if you weighed it, you'd find out I was right 99% of time. Cracked eggs went to the bakers.
To tell if an egg was good, you would candle the egg… If you hold the egg up to a light close by, you can see the yolk. You can see whether the yolk is formed properly, or broken, or if there's blood or albumin in the egg. [You need to do this to every egg.] I got so that as a teenager I could do almost as fast as the professionals would do it.
I was the cleanup man or I was an egg candler, when I had to be… [This was] a regular part of my existence... I would help with the cheese or I would help with the smaller things that didn't take up a lot of time and weren't too big to carry around.

Cohen (left) with President Johnson in the Oval Office, 1968.
 

Courtesy of Sheldon S. Cohen.

Eleven years after graduating first in his class at GW Law School, Cohen became chief counsel for the Internal Revenue Service. A year later, at age 37, he was nominated by President Johnson for the position of IRS Commissioner – making him the youngest to hold this post.

In the week after the nomination, Cohen's childhood work with his father at Potomac Butter and Egg appeared twice in Washington Post storiesshowing everyone's love of a good "American Dream" story.

This year, in conjunction with the Jewish Food Experience, our Objects of the Month feature DC's rich Jewish food history. For stories about this history and the latest on the local Jewish food scene – recipes, restaurants, chefs, events, and volunteer opportunities – visit jewishfoodexperience.com.

Object of the Month: June 2013 0 Comment(s)

Object No: 2012.30.1
Donor: Froma Sandler
Description: World War II ration book for Jacob Sandler, age 35, 5221 Chevy Chase Parkway, Washington, D.C., early 1940s.

Ration stamps in Lena Chidakel’s ration book.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Edith and Charles Pascal

During World War II, Washington’s Jewish community supported American troops both at home and abroad. Wartime food shortages required Washingtonians to save and reuse everything. To limit consumption of products like butter, coffee, liquor, and sugar, the U.S. Office of Price Administration distributed ration books to individuals and families. Households exchanged specific ration stamps for limited amounts of a given food item at grocery stores. Rationing at home enabled more food to be diverted to the war effort. Hardships at home were a low price to pay if they led to victory in Europe and the well-being of American soldiers.

As American factories shifted their attention to manufacturing goods to support the war effort, production of liquor, like other luxuries, slowed. "There were always shortages," recalled Washington liquorman Milton Kronheim in an oral history, "[It] became difficult to get the popular brands we were selling."

Fred Kolker (center) ran a poultry business at 1263 4th Street, NE. Shown here with cantor and shochet (ritual butcher) Moshe Yoelson.

Courtesy of Brenda and Paul Pascal.

Local businesses also supported troops overseas with food from home. Fred Kolker's wholesale poultry business at Union Terminal Market sold to the U.S. Army during the war. In his oral history, Kolker remembered fondly, “My chicken went to our soldiers who were located all over the world…Boys from Washington, D.C. wrote me letters thanking me for the good poultry they received.”

Washington's Jewish community also welcomed soldiers and war workers who flocked to the city to work in the war effort. When severe housing shortages forced workers to share scarce rooms in boarding houses and private homes, the Jewish Community Center provided housing references to thousands of newly arrived "government girls" through a Room Registry. Roselyn Dresbold Silverman came to Washington in 1941 to work for the Navy Department. She lived at Dissin's Guest House, a boarding house in Dupont Circle that catered to young Jewish women. Each month, Roselyn paid $35 for her room, two kosher-style meals a day, and maid service.

Ninth Annual Passover Seder by the Army and Navy Committee of the Jewish Welfare Board and the Jewish War Veterans of the United States. Willard Hotel, April 19, 1943. 

JHSGW Collections.

The Jewish War Veterans' Washington Post No. 58 and the Jewish Welfare Board sponsored High Holiday services and Passover seders for military personnel stationed far from their families. The Jewish Community Center at 16th & Q Streets, NW offered a full program of activities including daytime jitterbug contests for nighttime shift workers. Its policy was: "Your uniform is your admission to all activities and facilities."

Washington's Jewish community was very much a part of the war effort. As Henry Gichner said when he accepted an award for exceptional efficiency and production on behalf of Gichner Iron Works, "Let's keep right on going until we get the V-Flag for Victory."

Making history with Giant Food 0 Comment(s)

Laura Apelbaum, JHSGW Executive Director, holding the GIANT check with John Hicks and Charlton Clarke of Giant Food. In the background are D.C. City Councilmember Tommy Wells and Giant Food President Anthony Hucker.

Courtesy of Giant Food

Last week JHSGW staff attended the grand opening of Washington’s newest corner grocery store – the H Street NE Giant Food.  As you can see, we were thrilled to receive a generous $2,500 contribution from Giant in appreciation for our work preserving Giant Food’s historical archives and photographs. With support from the Naomi & Nehemiah Cohen Foundation, JHSGW archivists spent five years cataloging Giant Food’s historical documents and photographs and conducting oral histories to help preserve Giant’s remarkable legacy in our community.

For a sneak peek into the Giant Food archives, check out this slideshow of historic Giant photos and a short film featuring memories of Giant Food and its founders, Samuel Lehrman and Nehemiah Cohen, from interviews with community leaders, former employees of Giant Food, family, and friends.

Recognize the big G? Most of these iconic Giant  store signs have been replaced in recent years so we were especially delighted to receive this sign last month when the Queenstown Giant in Hyattsville, Maryland closed. Opened in 1954 on Queens Chapel Road, the store achieved a brief moment of fame in 1957 when Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip stopped in for a brief tour of the store after visiting the University of Maryland.

We plan to make the GIANT sign a centerpiece of our new museum in the future - but in the meantime our costs to preserve and store the sign will come to $12,000 over the next five years. Won't you help us support the care and preservation of this GIANT piece of history? Donate to the Giant Food Sign Preservation Fund.

Object of the Month: April 2013 0 Comment(s)

Object No.: 1998.24.4
Donor: Ann Hofberg Richards
Description: Hofberg's menu, yellow and maroon printed cardboard, c.1950s

Background: Does this menu bring you back to a time when a corned-beef sandwich cost 35 cents? Many Washingtonians' have early memories of Hofberg's, located on the District line. Shepherd Elementary and Beth Sholom Sunday School students visited after class was over. When these young patrons became teenagers, they returned to Hofberg's, a great date place where all enjoyed the famous sandwiches, hot dogs, and pickles.

Some 40 years before opening his deli on Eastern Avenue, Abe Hofberg was born in Argentina, where his Eastern European parents had lived since they were children. Dora and Solomon Hofberg brought their family to Washington in the early 1920s. Abe and his siblings attended Roosevelt High School while their parents, like so many Jewish immigrants, ran a grocery store at 20th & E Streets, NW.

When Abe launched his first deli at 116 Kennedy Street, NW (seen left) in 1928, the family lived four blocks away at 710 Longfellow Street, NW. His parents opened the doors every day at 6 a.m., and took over the counter while Abe served his country during World War II.

Shortly after Abe's return home, he sold the business on Kennedy Street, but quickly picked up where he had left off. In 1948, he opened a new Hofberg's where Eastern, Alaska, and Georgia Avenues meet on the border between Washington and Silver Spring. The sandwich shop became an popular hang-out for area teens to grab a heaping sandwich and a dish of ice cream.

Over the years, Hofberg's added catering service, room service for a neighborhood motel, and The Penthouse, a dining room upstairs from the deli. A 1957 advertisement for the Penthouse's grand opening boasted the establishment would be "America's most lavish and hospitable kosher restaurant outside of New York."

When the ownership changed in 1969, Hofberg's spread into Montgomery County, but the suburban locations were never as popular as their D.C. predecessors. Ten years after Abe Hofberg retired, the Eastern Avenue deli was praised in The Washington Post: "In the case of Hofberg's…everybody comes out a winner." Regretfully, after decades of serving as a meet-and-eat spot, the shop closed in the early 1980s, followed by the Maryland locations in the next few decades. While Hofberg's is now part of Washington's history, many native Washingtonians fondly remember its renowned deli fare.

Do you have material documenting a local deli or restaurant that you'd like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society's collection? Please contact us at info@jhsgw.org or (202) 789-0900.


This year, in conjunction with the Jewish Food Experience, our Objects of the Month feature DC's rich Jewish food history. For stories about this history and the latest on the local Jewish food scene – recipes, restaurants, chefs, events, and volunteer opportunities – visit jewishfoodexperience.com.