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Object of the Month: June 2015 0 Comment(s)

Object No.: 2014.32.1
Donor: Sarah Cohen
Description: Artwork film for Tabard Farm Yukon Gold Potato Chips bag featuring the Tabard Inn as a farmhouse, 2014.

Connoisseurs of potato chips are likely familiar with Route 11 potato chips. Route 11 was founded in 1992, and is based in Mount Jackson, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley. Yet the company has its roots in downtown D.C., and the Tabard Inn — the venerable Dupont Circle brunch spot that was among the area’s first farm-to-table restaurants.

In the late 1970s, Edward and Fritzi Cohen, the inn’s owners, started Tabard Farm Potato Chips as a side business. They sold tubs of organic chips to boutique and high-end shops like Williams-Sonoma. In the early 1980s, Tabard Farm began offering seasonal Yukon Gold potato chips. Their expertise went international in 1989 when Tabard Farm began supplying machinery and training to agricultural cooperatives in the Soviet Union.

In 1992, the Cohen’s daughter Sarah spun off the chip-making business and founded Route 11 Potato Chips. Route 11 offers a glimpse (and a taste) of this origin story with their Tabard Farm Yukon Gold Potato Chips. The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (JHSGW) interviewed Sarah Cohen, Route 11’s proprietor, about her family history and what makes Yukon Gold potatoes so special.

The Tabard Inn, 1739 N Street, NW, south of Dupont Circle.

Wikimedia Commons.

JHSGW: Tabard Farm Yukon Gold chips have their origins with the Tabard Inn, before the founding of Route 11. What’s the story?

Cohen: The prequel to Route 11 starts at the Tabard Inn. Edward and with his wife Fritzi [Cohen], my parents, bought the Tabard Inn in 1975. The purchased the hotel in part to save it from being demolished to make way for a high-rise office building. The restaurant opened a few years later, and Nora Poullion was the first Tabard Chef. She and my father shared the same interest in where food comes from, and how it’s grown. My dad was also an avid gardener, who spent much of his free time in the dirt.

Soon after the Tabard Inn’s kitchen started serving meals, my dad found a piece of property near Front Royal, Virginia, and also found a genius, bio-dynamic farmer named Susan [Peterson] to run the farm, which grew food for the Inn. This was the beginning of Tabard Farm. Tabard Farm grew vegetables for the Tabard Inn and also delivered to about 20 restaurants in D.C.

One day, a neighboring organic farmer told my dad a story about how he’d planted all these potatoes for two brothers, and that the brothers just got arrested for dealing cocaine and put in prison. He had just planted all these potatoes and didn’t know what he was going to do. My dad got a big smile and a sparkle in his eye, and knew that he wanted to do. MAKE POTATO CHIPS!

My dad was also potato-obsessed in general, and [a few years later] when the Yukon Gold potato began to appear in seed catalogs, he thought it would be great to try those as chips. And, they were INCREDIBLE!!

The Tabard Inn depicted as a farmhouse on a bag of Tabard Farm Yukon Gold potato chips.

JHSGW: The image on the bag presents the iconic Inn near Dupont Circle as a farm house. Where did the idea for that image come from, and who created it?

Cohen: The image on the bag of the Tabard in a potato field, was the original artwork for the Yukon Gold bag done [for Tabard Farm Potato Chips] in the early 1980s. It was done by the sister of a sous chef in the Tabard Kitchen.

JHSGW: Many Washington-area Jews have a mom-and-pop grocery or some other shop as part of their family history. I often hear wonderful stories about the fun and warmth of growing up living over, and in many ways, in the store. What was it like growing up with/in the Tabard Inn?

Cohen: My two brothers and I worked at the Tabard as we grew up... me from the age of 12, and then my brothers into adulthood, and up until very recently. My parents never really related to the idea of a mom-and-pop business. They were very political and cerebral, and from the get-go hired great people, who helped grow the Tabard into the icon that it is today.

My parents definitely set the tone for the place. It was never your typical corporate, cookie-cutter hotel. Neither of them ever worked the front lines of the business. But, the Tabard is what it is because of their original vision [to offer organic, farm-to-table food] and the great staff that it attracted over the years. It was an awesome and fun business to grow up in.

JHSGW: These chips are more than just a nod to Route 11’s roots in your parents’ business. How do you characterize your contribution to your family’s culinary and entrepreneurial history? Are there certain values or a spirit that flows through it all?

Sarah Cohen and fellow chipmakers.

Courtesy Sarah Cohen and Route 11.

Cohen: Route 11 very much reflects the values and spirit of my family’s relationship with food and hospitality. My dad loved to grow vegetables, and my mom is a great cook. Tabard has an authenticity that is hard to find these days. I would say the same for Route 11.

There are so many smoke and mirrors in the world of food, and we’re producing this product ourselves, working closely with several growers, forging relationships with our fans, and inviting people to come see how the chips are made. It’s the real deal. The true inspiration for Route 11 was to try and make a really, really good potato chip without cutting the corners on ingredients or methods that happen so often with most snack foods.

Chips coming out of the cooker at Route 11’s factory in the Shenandoah Valley.

Courtesy Sarah Cohen and Route 11.

JHSGW: So, what makes Yukon Gold potatoes so special?

Cohen: The Yukon Golds are a yellow flesh potato with a buttery flavor built in. Who doesn’t love butter? When we’re cooking them, our factory smells like buttered popcorn.

JHSGW: I’m not asking you to give up any secrets, but is there a trick to making the perfect Yukon Gold chip?

Cohen: The Yukon Golds are seasonal, August-October. They can’t be stored year round and still make a GREAT potato chip. They’re best made from fresh-dug Yukons.

JHSGW: What burning question have I missed?

Cohen: Tabard Farm Yukon Gold Potato Chips were the first Yukon Gold Potato Chip ever marketed. That’s pretty cool. I don’t think many people know that.

Object of the Month: June 2011 0 Comment(s)

Object #: 2011.7
Donor: Leo M. Bernstein Family Foundation
Description: Leo M. Bernstein Archival Collection, which includes biographical materials, correspondence, family history, professional & community recognition, photographs, scrapbooks, and other memorabilia about the life and work of Leo M. Bernstein, D.C. banker, real estate broker, Zionist, civil rights promoter, philanthropist, American history enthusiast and collector.

Professional Life
Born in Washington, D.C. in 1915, Leo Bernstein graduated from the city’s Central High School. He received an informal education in real estate while working with his father’s real estate investments. The 1906 deed for his grandfather’s kosher butcher shop and home at 816 Sixth Street, NW, is in the collection. He founded his own real estate company at age 18. Within a year, Bernstein challenged racial and religious covenants, which barred the sale of properties to persons of color or to Jews, selling a house in a “whites only” neighborhood near Howard University to an African-American professor.

While working in real estate, Bernstein went to night law school, graduating in 1936 from the Columbus Law School (now Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law). Over the next few decades, Bernstein owned and ran several D.C. banks. Seen here, Bernstein (right) and D.C. Commissioner Gilbert Hahn, Jr., raise the District of Columbia flag at the D.C. National Bank headquarters at 18th & K Streets, NW, in 1971.
 
History Enthusiast
Bernstein enjoyed collecting historic documents, especially those relating to American presidents; furniture; and other objects, exhibiting some of them in the lobbies of his banks. This interest led him to become involved in historic preservation in the Shenandoah Valley communities of Middletown and Strasburg, Virginia starting in 1960. There, Bernstein helped save and restore several buildings, including the 18th-century Wayside Inn. As documented by itineraries, correspondence, and photographs, Bernstein organized and hosted family reunions and getaway weekends for friends and colleagues there and at other hotels he owned in the region. Among the groups Bernstein welcomed was the Washington Board of Rabbis, which met at the Wayside Inn many times during the 1970s and 1980s.
 

Jewish Community Involvement
Bernstein’s involvement in Jewish causes and organizations was local, national, and international. These included Adas Israel Congregation, United Jewish Appeal, Hebrew Academy of Greater Washington, American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science, Anti-Defamation League, and Yeshiva University. Bernstein served on the board of the Jewish Historical Society for nine years in the 1970s and ‘80s. This 1983 certificate of appreciation from the D.C. Section of the National Council of Jewish Women was awarded for his support on the occasion of NCJW’s 90th birthday in 1983.

As a young man, Bernstein was active locally in the cause of Zionism. In a 1999 oral history, Bernstein told of secret meetings attended by community leaders like Abraham Kay, Joe Cherner, and Morris Pollin: “Before Israel was a state, we had many Haganah meetings. We were getting ready to help Jews get into Palestine. They needed money for guns, ammunition and ships. We met at my office at 718 Fifth Street.” One highlight of the collection is a 1948 letter from Joseph Cherner, president of the Louis D. Brandeis District of the Zionist Organization of America, appointing Bernstein chair of the Embassy Building Committee, charged with finding a suitable building for the first Israeli Embassy.

Donation of Collection
Bernstein passed away 2008 at the age of 93. The following year, the Jewish Historical Society started a major archival project funded by the Leo M. Bernstein Family Foundation to organize and preserve this extensive collection of Bernstein’s business and personal papers. The Society completed the project in 2010 and was honored to accept the Leo M. Bernstein Archival Collection when the Foundation formally donated it last month.

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

Alexandria Walking Tour 0 Comment(s)

This past Sunday, I led 17 people around Old Town Alexandria. Here's a picture of me pointing out the home of Henry Strauss, Alexandria's first Jewish mayor (1891-1897). We also visited the sites of former synagogues and Jewish businesses--including two containing markers of their Jewish owners.

This is the fourth time I've led the tour since we developed it last year, and it continues to be a hit! Stay tuned for when we offer it in the fall.

A Busy Fall of Programs 0 Comment(s)

As usual, we had a Fall full of programs! Luckily, the weather held out for most—although some brave souls endured the rain to learn about local Jewish history.

The past few weeks, we’ve had some large groups of students take walking tours of downtown Washington.

On the cold, rainy morning of October 18, our new volunteer Sheryl and I led a group of 52 kids, many of their parents, and Rabbi Joui Hessel from Washington Hebrew Congregation, and on a sunny—but no less cold—Wednesday morning last week, our Archivist/Curator Wendy, Administrator Joel, new volunteer Laura, and I led 80 tenth graders from the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School.

If you haven’t been on one yet, we start our downtown tours at the Lillian and Albert Small Jewish Museum, originally the Adas Israel synagogue, and proceed to visit the second home of Adas Israel (today Sixth and I Historic Synagogue), former home of Ohev Sholom (today Chinese Community Church), and the former home of Washington Hebrew Congregation (today Greater New Hope Baptist Church). Along the way, we talk about what life was like for the Jews who lived, worked, and worshipped in this neighborhood in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

But our walking tours don’t just cover downtown Washington.

On October 25, I had the privilege of leading a tour through Old Town Alexandria on a beautiful fall day. This was only the second we’d led this program, but, judging by the 40 people who came out, we’ll be doing it again! This tour, which we developed to coincide with our Jewish Washington exhibition at the Lyceum in the spring, highlights the sites of formerly Jewish-owned businesses, homes, and two former synagogues.

The same day as the Alexandria walking tour, I also led a program called “Synagogue Story” for a group of second graders from Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation. The 19 kids in this phenomenal group learned about our historic 1876 synagogue, then made their own models of it to use as tzedakah (charity) boxes!

And to top it all off, our new volunteers Matt and Laura gave a tour of our exhibition Jewish Washington: Scrapbook of an American Community to the new 30s-40s group at Adas Israel Congregation, and our longtime volunteer Mark gave a tour of our exhibition Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln’s City to a group from Beth El Hebrew Congregation and Temple Rodef Shalom.

As you can see, we’ve had a busy—but enjoyable—fall at JHSGW. We hope to see you at an upcoming Programs!