Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Leo Martin in the news again

Very interesting. A year later, Leo Martin shows up in the New York Times again, but this time with the headline: "Four Food Dealers Held as Bribers."

"Operators of a cafeteria and three bakeries were arrested yesterday on charges of offering bribes to health inspectors to avoid the notoriety of appearing on the "dirty restaurant list" that warns the public of health violations, according to the complaint." (New York Times, November 17, 1971)

Apparently, at four different restaurants, the owners offered between $10 and $50 to inspectors in order to avoid flunking their food inspections. The deputy commissioner at the time, David Dorsen, was quoted as saying that this is the first time charges have been pressed against anyone attempting to offer bribes, and the law making restaurants who don't pass inspection public went into effect in July of 1971. It sounds like this was a case of setting the standard for other restaurants - i.e. take this seriously, don't try and buy your way out of these new regulations.

What's interesting, though is that it goes on to mention that all the restaurants had previously come up with a clean inspection:

"Previously, the four businesses cited, including Dubrow's, the popular cafeteria in the garment district, had been given clean bills of health, with no ciolations (sic) cited by H.S.A inspectors, who are known as "sanitarians," Mr. Dorsen said....The four men arrested and charged with bribery and giving unlawful gratuities were identified as Leib Braunfeld, 52, of Gertel Bakery, 53 Hester Street, charged with a $10 bribe offered on November 3; Herb Geller, 26, of Original Royal Bakery, 237 West 72nd Street, charged with offering a $20 bribe on November 13; Leo Martin, 56, of Dubrow's Cafeteria, 515 Seventh Ave, charged with offering a $50 bribe on November 14; and Adolph Mersberg, of Mersberg Bakery, 64-00 Metropolitan Avenue, Queens, with the complaint listing a $10 bribe offered on October 25. " (Ibid.)

It was probably a pretty minor incident, in the grand scheme of things, but it does raise some questions - why would Dubrow's not pass that year, when previously it had? Is it just a coincidence that it comes a year after Leo Martin's big push for increased productivity, or did he sacrifice some standards to get there?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

"Dubrow's is no ordinary cafeteria"

In this article, about a year after the death of Irwin Dubrow, we find out what happened to the Manhattan Dubrow's that Irwin ran for many years:

"Leo Martin got in an awful rut a while back. Like any other businessman in this inflationary era, his costs were galloping upward and his profitability - indeed the very existence of the cafeteria he operates at 515 Seventh Avenue and 38th Street - was threatened. This was no small matter to him because he not only operates Dubrow's cafeteria in the garment district, but since last October he has owned 30 percent. "Every time my costs went up, I would try and pass it on to the customer. Each time I raised my prices, I served fewer and fewer customers," he explained.

Business dropped from 5,500 customers a day to somewhere between 4,300 and 4,600 by the third week in May. We were starting to lose money for the first time since I took over full management last October on the death of the grandson of the founder," he said.

(New York Times, October 26, 1971)

The article goes on to give us a good detail about Mr. Martin, as well as the history of the changes in owners and managers over the years:

"The other Dubrow cafeteria, at King's Highway and East 16th street, is owned by a relative of the founders. It's a separate business. Mr. Martin was no newcomer to the business. He began as an assistant manager in the Dubrow cafeteria on King's Highway in 1939. He had been general manager successively of three Dubrow cafeterias, the last one being the Seventh Avenue one. He left Dubrow's in 1959 to become general manager for the Arthur Maisel restaurants. When the Maisel restaurants liquidated, the Dubrows asked Mr. Martin to come back. That was in October, 1968, and he's been there ever since. " (Ibid.)

The article is not just a character piece about Leo Martin, however, as it goes on to try to understand the realities facing the cafeteria in New York City:

"Mr. Martin was not only in a restaurant where business was falling, he was in an industry that failed to adjust. At one time, there were perhaps 300 cafeterias in the city as big as the Dubrows Seventh Avenue one - it seats 450 - now there are 25 of them and many are in trouble.

"I realized the fact that the cafeterias had outpriced themselves and were not competitive with the average man's eating place, " Mr. Martin recounted. "Hamburger stands, pushcarts in the street, small coffee shops, and even some medium-priced restaurants were all outselling us."

It was easy for Mr. Martin to fall into the trap of raising prices. Dubrow's is no ordinary cafeteria. At dinner, a dessert cart serves the tables directly. The pastries on that cart art all produced on the premises. Dubrow's employs 11 bakers who make Vienna rolls, stangell, a salt stick, pletsl, a thin crisp roll garnished with on-"

Here the article continues on another page that is apparently not included in the download. But it picks up shortly thereafter and explains how Leo Martin helped Dubrow's survive when other cafeterias were faltering:

"...Mr. Martin naturally expected to get good prices. Yet the fact remained that, while quality was high, the customers just weren't coming into the restaurant.

Of all things, New York City's extending of a 7 percent sales tax to meals below a dollar proved to be fortuitous. The customers resented it naturally, and this didn't help business. Mr. Martin, a 55-year-old slim man with wavy black hair and a mustache, knew he had to do something drastic to regain his business. It wouldn't be easy. The garment district, in which the restaurant was centered, had become more and more depressed...He decided to use one of the oldest gimmicks in merchandising - the loss leader. What's more, he tied it to the 7 percent "hot dog" tax, as the levy, which starts at 15 cents, has been called.

He explained: "We decided to absorb the 7 percent tax on a selected list of specials on which we reduced our prices substantially. For example, a hamburger and coffee at lunch, which used to bring $1.02 including the 7 percent tax, we now featured for 69 cents."

...This kind of special is enough to make any restaurant man apprehensive. Mr. Martin admits that, if his customers bought nothing else, the specials would put him out of business. It didn't work that way - about 25 percent of the customers are ordering specials - and it almost never does, he explained..."We have reacquainted old and new customers with Dubrow's and our tremendous selection of food. Consequently, we have people coming in daily who eat the special once a week or twice a week - but not all the time. The rest of the week, they buy regular items.
" (Ibid.)

Essentially, Dubrow's saved itself for another decade and a half, while other cafeterias were closing, by building on its strength - loyal customers.

"The reason production is so important to Dubrow's is that an establishment as big as this must have a large basic production crew. The solution was increase dollar volume without increasing the payroll. When the specials began on September 22, volume soared immediately, Mr. Martin said, adding: "We're now serving about a thousand customers a day more than we did before the loss leaders. Our average day - we're open 16 hours, until 10 PM, we serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner - brings in between 5,500 and 5,600 customers a day"..." (Ibid.)

Mr. Martin goes on to crunch the numbers - I presume this article was written for the business section of the New York Times, as it has a decidedly business feel. I also imagine that the publicity garnered from the article didn't hurt business, either, so that was a good business move as well. He also goes on to note that not all the employees were so happy about the changes, as for them, it meant more work and not any more money.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Irwin Dubrow

Among the articles about Dubrow's I found in the New York Times database, I also found Irwin Dubrow's obituary. In the copy available to download, it looks like part of the header has been cut off. It reads "Irwin Dubrow, 39, Dead;" and the presence of the semicolon indicates more text, as do the stray black marks found underneath. But mostly it's just white space, so I don't know what the rest of the header read.

The obituary goes on to report his death, with no mention of how he died:

"Mr. Dubrow headed Dubrow's, which operated a cafeteria at 515 Seventh Avenue, near 39th street, and another on 35th street off Seventh Avenue. He also operated Alfie's a bar and grill at Third Avenue and 74th Street, and a restaurant on King's Highway in Brooklyn.

He was a director of the Karen Horney Clinic and a director of Affiliated Restaurateurs, Inc.

He leaves his wife, the former Ann Tuck, two daughters, Joanne and Barbara, a sister, Mrs. Helene Grossman, and his mother, Mrs. Fannie Dubrow Rubin.

(New York Times, October 6, 1970)

A little backstory: Irwin Dubrow, who was the grandson of Benjamin Dubrow, killed himself. I am guessing that that is what is in the rest of the headline, though I am not sure if it was intentionally blotted out. I know that Dubrow's was closed for a little while following his suicide, which is understandable since it was a family crisis, both personally and in terms of the business.

I did not, however, know that there was another cafeteria owned by the family in Manhattan, nor did I know how many different jobs Irwin was doing at once. Was the "other restaurant" on King's Highway actually Dubrow's? Or did the family own a different restaurant on King's Highway later on? And Karen Horney clinic? Does that mean he was a social worker on top of being a businessman? I know Joanne, his daughter, has chimed in on this blog at times, so perhaps she will add some of her thoughts. Also, Irwin left behind another brother, Leonard, who for unknown reasons is not mentioned in the obituary.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

End of another New York cafeteria

Continuing the theme of understanding the demise of New York City's cafeterias, I found this article about the closing of another cafeteria, Garfield's, which was located at the corner of Flatbush and Church Avenues in Brooklyn. According to the article, it officially close on July 6, 1971, "after declining business had forced its demise."

The article goes on to reference the Dubrow's on Eastern Parkway:

"Garfield's, in its heyday, was known throughout Brooklyn, mentioned in the same breath with Dubrow's on Eastern Parkway and Utica Ave and Hoffman's on Pitkin and Saratoga Avenues, which are also gone."
(New York Times, July 25, 1971)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Foreshadowing the end of Dubrow's

I found an article by Murray Schumach in the New York Times that talks about the decline in New York's cafeterias. It was written in 1969 - which is interesting to note because it means problems started for the cafeteria business quite early on. It also means Dubrow's survived the decline for a decade and a half, much longer than others in the city. Schumach writes:

"Affluence has already cannibalized more than two-thirds of those mirrored citadels that became symbols of the city and transferred the tempo of the subway to the stomach." (New York Times, August 18, 1969)

He goes on to quote customers and the owners of the Governor Cafeteria and the Belmore Cafeteria before talking about Dubrow's:

"And at Dubrow's, an equally successful cafeteria at Seventh Ave and 38th Street, the owner, Irwin Dubrow, grandson of the founder of the business, says: "A cafeterial can't pass along increased prices and wages the way other eating places do. A couple years ago we raised our price of coffee from 10 cents to 15. We were only doing what everybody else was doing. But we lost 1,500 customers a day and we still haven't gotten them all back."" (Ibid.)

He goes on to reference two Hector's Cafeterias, Garfield's, Dixon's, the King's Highway Dubrow's, the 167th Street Cafeteria, and the Concord as other currently surviving but struggling cafeterias. He doesn't reference the Eastern Parkway Dubrow's - I don't know if this means it had closed by now, or what.

He also interviews a customer in the Manhattan Dubrow's later in the article, and mentions Leo Martin, who came up earlier on this blog because his obituary mentioned working at Dubrow's:

"One recent afternoon, in the Manhattan Dubrow's, Charles Abbott, a salesman, was asked as he sat squeezed at a table among two strangers, why he liked cafeterias. He replied, "You get out quick. The price is right. And with such an output, you never get a stale sandwich."

Leo Martin, an executive at the cafeteria, says that a study showed that during the lunch hour the average customer was out in 19 minutes. At The Governor, the calculations show that...each of the 426 seats is turned over seven times between noon and 2 PM.
" (Ibid)

What's interesting about this is that it contradicts some of what readers have shared about liking so much about Dubrow's - the ability to "plunk down a quarter for a cup of coffee and sit all day" as my great-aunt Marian said.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Dubrow's as a community center

I found two articles from the 1960's, both of which reference Dubrow's as a center of political and community life in Brooklyn. The first one is about the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association rallying the community to vote 'yes' to eliminate the Civilian Complaint Review Board, claiming that "the existence of the board prevents policemen from taking appropriate action to fight crime." (New York Times, October 24, 1966) Apparently the language of the ballot measure was sufficiently confusing, because the article goes on:

"A yes vote bars civilians from serving. Thus anyone favoring the present board must vote no to support it. This produced bewilderment. In front of Dubrow's Cafeteria on King's Highway at 16th street, a campaign worker spoke in a mixture of Yiddish and English in an effort to clarify things for an elderly man."

This campaign hit up all the stops in Brooklyn - the article goes on to say that they made stops at Trump Village shopping center in Brighton Beach and Nathan's Famous before coming to Dubrow's, and from Dubrow's they planned another stop at the Brighton Beach Baths. The article also references a politician named Lindsay and blames much of the current political issues on him.

Two years later, Lindsay, who it turns out was the mayor at the time, is also booed in front of Dubrow's:

"At King's Highway and East 16th street in Brooklyn, the crowd was so vehemently anti-Lindsay over the school strike that (Senator Jacob) Javitz, a master at soothing angry crowds, said several times that there was no point in continuing since he could not be heard, even with a microphone.

"The Mayor is in a tough spot - it may even be his own fault," the Senator told a crowd that including angry teachers and parents outside Dubrow's Cafeteria. But just as he is jeered today, he may be cheered tomorrow."
(Tolchin, M. "Lindsay Backlash Confronts Javitz." New York Times, October 17, 1968)

Anyone remember these particular political events? The theme is consistent with memories people have shared earlier on this blog about the King's Highway Dubrow's being a popular place for politicians to stump.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Private Investors Start Parking Garage

This photo accompanied an article about plans to build a 400 car parking garage in the same block as the Dubrow's Cafeteria in Manhattan. If you look closely (resolution on the photo is not great) you can see the Dubrow's sign on both sides of the building. It touts the construction because "it will give Manhattan's West Side its first privately financed storage center since construction of the Radio City garage." (New York Times, January 7,1951) Those financers called themselves "515 Seventh Avenue Corporation" and are headed by Lawrence Mayer, David Harris, and Irving Karpas.

The Times article cuts off, so other then in the photo there's no explicit reference to Dubrow's. It would seem to me that this would have been in the very early years of the Manhattan Dubrow's - in fact, it might even be the initial plans for that location. I'm not sure.

Also, it would seem to me that this is a premonition of the demise of Dubrow's - after all, even though Dubrow's served the garment workers in Manhattan for many years, I suspect the 400 car garage was not built for them, and so the need for such a construction suggests that even as early as the 1950's the face of Manhattan was beginning to change.