Monday, December 07, 2009

An email from a former Dubrow's employee

I love how people come out of the woodwork to share their Dubrow's connections. The fact that so many people are sitting at hoe Googling Dubrow's Cafeteria, 24 years after the last one closed, tells me how much it meant to people.

This one comes from a woman named Sonia Valentin:

"I was so surprised to Google Dubrow's Cafeteria and find this blog...wonderful...I was a 15 or 16 yr old Puerto Rican student in high school in the Bronx who got a part time job in the Manhattan cafeteria. I worked for four hours from 2-6 pm and was paid $1.50 per hour, and I worked Monday through Friday, and all day Saturday. I was in charge of the "freebies" station where customers got their juices, cole slaw, and applesauce. I was next to Ruth, Jewish, the cashier...and on the other side was Al Tabenkin, Jewish, another cashier...who became a dear friend for many, many years...i went to his 70th birthday party with my husband some time ago. I remember Joyce, African American, who bussed the tables with her daughter - whose name eludes me. I remember Bob, the manager, with the dirty blond hair and beautiful blue eyes - I had a crush on him. Another was Ben the hot meats and sandwich slicer - I was right next to him, and Angelo. This was the first time I ever tasted brisket of beef, and I recall there were some meats the employees were not supposed to eat but good old Ben, a Puerto Rican, always let me have a taste and made small sandwiches for me. I love eating matzo ball soup since this is where I had it for the first time. Angelo, another Puerto Rican, worked behind me and used to take orders for broiled fish, he was so kind to me always in those days when I first started there. Chen was chinese, and the manager of the food department and I remember when we went to the second or third floor to change into our clean, and crisp white uniforms with white shoes and white nylons, everyone was always cooking under his direction -- I was told he had many children. Felix, African American, was a counter man and was the fastest food server in the union and was always so informative about the foods, etc. I think the floor manager was Joe, Jewish....not sure of his name. I got this job via Maria, another Puerto Rican who went to school with me, had long blond hair, freckles, and lived in the same neighborhood as I did, and she worked the soda station.

I remember the day I came to work and found out that Irwin Dubrow killed himself. I believe it happened on a Saturday night and I found out when I went to work that Monday. It was a sad day, and people at work did not want to talk about it, and we were shocked that someone so vibrant, and young was gone. But I recall Irwin was always the quiet type, had wavy dark brown hair, and always said hello.

Sonia would very much like to hear from other people who worked at Dubrow's from 1965-1968, when she worked there. Contact me via the blog and I can put you in touch with her.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Photo of Dubrow's

This photo was submitted by Leslie Wong. It's on his Flickr page and his blog, and he has graciously allowed me to re-post it here. What a great shot and a great find! Not only a great shot of fabulous mural at the Manhattan location, but of some customers eating there at the time.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

More reader feedback (Glen)

Another reader, Glen, writes in enthusiastically to say how much he loved Dubrow's:

"Hi! I think it's great that you have your website about Dubrow's!

I used to eat there often in 1982. I'm lucky that I got to experience the place; I just made it, too. Little did I know that it would close three years later.

WHY did it close? The place was ALWAYS packed. At least it was in 1982. That's when I commuted into Manhattan every day to work.

The food at Dubrow's was GREAT! I never went to a place where they absolutely HEAPED the food on your plate, and it was DAMN GOOD FOOD, too, and the prices were reasonable. It was one of the best values in town.

I can't tell you how much Dubrow's and other places like the Horn & Hardart automats, and other cafeterias.

Manhattan has become an exclusive playground for the rich yuppies. You can't even LIVE in Manhattan anymore unless you're a millionaire. I have friends that both grew up on York Avenue, where they lived in tenements. They were VERY poor. NOW, those "TENEMENTS" would be unaffordable. They both live in Queens, which is where I live and where I grew up. They LOVED living on York Avenue, but, as they say, you can't go home again. It really is true.

It sickens me how New York City is losing its soul. You can't even get an egg cream in New York City anymore. I mean, what's more New York City than an EGG CREAM???????? What a damn shame.

There's nowhere in Manhattan left to eat. What's the choice? There's McDonald's, and there's fancy restaurants, and there's NOTHING IN BETWEEN now in Manhattan. I guess this is just another sign of the shrinking of the middle-class in America. Pretty soon, America will be just like all those other countries: The very rich and the very poor, and that's all! Nothing in between.

As huge chain restaurants and fast food restaurants take over both the city and our nation, as well, we are losing our national identity. New Yorkers, whether they be from Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, or the Bronx (I never even THINK about Staten Island because I've only driven through there!!!!) are losing their identity. New York City, just like the rest of the nation, is becoming homogenized and watered down, whether it be accents, mom and pop stores, and other things. If you ask in Queens, where I live, if there's a luncheonette nearby, you'd be looked at like you just came from Mars. They don't KNOW what a luncheonette is, they don't KNOW what an egg cream is, it's unbelievable.

Dubrow's, The Garment District, egg creams, luncheonettes, cafeterias; it's all leaving or has already left the culture of this once-great city.

It's sad to see this happen to the city where I grew up.

What I told Glen in an email is my best understanding of why Dubrow's closed: The price of real estate in Manhattan skyrocketed and made it no longer possible to make enough money off of Dubrow's to keep it open. If people have been to that stretch of Seventh Avenue in midtown Manhattan, they wouldn't be surprised by the theory, and it seems to be generally supported by the articles I have found about the closing.

What is less clear to me is why the locations in Brooklyn or Miami closed, although I would hazard a guess to say it was also about money. It usually is, and especially when a place was so well loved you can't imagine any reason to close it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ask and you shall receive!

Marcia Bricker Halperin has unearthed this photo of Nissa, the woman about whom reader Julia asked in my last post. Marcia confirms that Nissa was in fact a busser and says this photo was taken in about 1977. Perhaps some day Marcia will find photos of Julia's grandfather as well.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Reader seeks information

I received an email from Julia, who sends this letter:

Good morning, Eve.
I hope my email finds you well. I stumbled across your blog when doing a search on Dubrow's Cafeteria for my grandfather. He worked for your family's Garment District location for decades and really held the management, owner, and staff in familial regard. When it closed in the mid-eighties, my grandfather regretfully lost contact with one particular employee who treated him like a dad. Her name was possibly Nissa Morales Orivera or some derivative of that. Being 84 years old, my grandfather's memory is understandably not 100%. His name is Danny Solomos. He was loved by many. I am hoping that amongst the archived information you have gathered about your family's business, you may be able to unearth some record of this woman or even my grandfather. He wants to reconnect with her before "he goes" as he puts it.

Any help you could offer would be stellar. Some other helpful details he remembers are that she would now be between 55-65 years old. Her mother Rosa also worked for that Dubrow's and they both hailed from the Morris Park area of the Bronx.

Thanks so much!

Anyone recall Nissa or Danny from Dubrow's in Manhattan? In a subsequent email, Julia went on to say that she thinks Nissa worked as a cashier, while her grandfather worked as a baker and possibly a cook for about 25 years.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Matchbooks from Dubrow's

Purchased these off of eBay from two different sellers. The more faded one lists the Eastern Parkway (Brooklyn) and Lincoln Road (Miami) locations on them, and was dated as a 1940's matchbook. The third image is the inside of the more faded matchbook cover - war bonds! Proof that it it is from the 1940's. I love it. I especially love the use of "U'r" which allows it to spell out "DUBROW." The less faded one did not come with a date or have anything printed on the inside of the cover.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A letter from the son of Irwin's best friend

With permission, I am reprinting the email I received from the son of Irwin Dubrow's best friend. I think you can hear the tragedy of the family in his words, and he asked that his name not be reprinted in the blog.

"I am the son of Ira R Legon. My father was Irwin's best friend. The two grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn in the 1940's. He is my Uncle Irwin, as I have known him my entire early years, plus I know his wife Annie, adopted daughter Joanne, and of course Barbara.

I remember the day he commited suicide at the 7th avanue operation. It was a very dark day for the Legon family indeed. My Father said to me that the pistol had "slipped" thus putting the end to his life. I have many stories about your great uncle, however they will be for you and your family, and not your blog space. In 1968 your great uncle had a powder blue Jaguar XKE, he let me drive the car (in his lap). I have always felt that this was the most beautiful car manufactured. He lived in Upper Saddle River, NJ. Annie was there (we still use her marinade for chicken), as was Joanne, and Barbara was a newborn.

Twenty years ago we had Annie and Barabra to our home for Christmas dinner. (Not bad for some Jews). I remember Barbara crying as she realized the significance of the situation.

Now for you...We have many pictures of my Uncle Irwin, along with my father. They date back all the way to there Camp Winadou days in the early 1940's. The symbiotic analogy might help you as that camp was in Massachussetts. My family will be more than happy to send you all the pictures that we have, with the regards to your deceased family members. Uncle Irwin would want you to have these photographs.

We have reconsidered, and will allow you to post our message as a blog. My request is that you do not use my name, however everything else is for your choosing.

Last night my mother and I went through my parents' wedding album and found many pictures with your great uncle. We have an exorbanate amount of boxes to go through to find all we can about my Uncle Irwin. (I wish my Father was still living to give you the "skinny" on Irwin). I know for a fact that none of the photography includes any Dubrow's deli or restaurant operations. These are family photos and are cherished deeply. We will make copies once we compile all the pictures we have.

I remember all the operations, NY (7th ave), Alfie's (Irwin's restaurant), and of course the Miami operation, (to) which my grandparents always took the grandchildren.

I still can describe Alfie's, sitting at the 7th ave shop, and of course Miami. Did you know that your great uncle was also a Mason? I have the picture right in front.

I did *NOT* know George was a Mason. Fascinating. I love that I found what seems may have been the exact type of car George Dubrow owned (and perhaps died in) via the internet. I am looking forward to seeing pictures my new friend unearths, and have also discussed scheduling an interview with him this fall.

Finding more Dubrow relatives

Have I told you the story of how I discovered a cousin lived a mile away from me, but we never knew the other existed?

That is how the Dubrow family seems to work. There are so many Dubrow family members wandering this country - perhaps the world - and little by little they are finding their way to each other, often by way of this blog.

Alice Gruber Phinzy is the cousin I discovered this way. She is, it turns out, the granddaughter of Ruth Gruber, who is my grandmother's younger sister. Ruthie and Sylvia are the youngest two children of Benjamin and Rose Dubrow, and the only two born in this country. In a stranger coincidence still, Alice knows my hairdresser - not only that, she nannies for her son! The world is a small place.

I recently got an email from Richard Hume, who informed me that he is the grandson of Jacob Solowey, who is the younger brother of "Rasel Soloway Dubrow" - who I know as Rose Dubrow. The woman who married my great grandfather, who started Dubrow's Cafeteria. As he points out, this makes him my second cousin, once removed, but as his family did not see the Dubrow family much, I never even realized Rose HAD siblings. It never occurred to me.

Finally, I also received an email from a man who reports that Irwin Dubrow (manager of Dubrow's, son of George Dubrow, and grandson of Benjamin) was his father's best friend, and they were close family friends until Irwin's death. I am currently negotiating about whether I can share any of their family's stories here, but suffice to say there is a lot more to be learned about my family's history...

As I have said to many people, and probably here on the blog before, the exciting part about this process is watching the connections unfold. I am reading The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, which is all about the unfolding of history, layer after layer. That's what this is all about.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Finding old photos and long lost relatives

Marcia Bricker Halperin found this photo in a 1971 high school yearbook. The photographer was uncredited. What a find! Anyone out there attend James Madison High School in Brooklyn, NY?

Meanwhile, Marcia has also received great news - she has gotten a first influx of funding from the Brooklyn Arts Council Community Arts Regrant Program for a documentary about New York cafeterias. She'll cover Dubrow's, and utilize things from this blog, as well as some of the other New York cafeterias that people have recalled fondly over the years I've been running this blog.

Finally, I discovered a long lost relative: Barbara Dubrow Faerman. She's the daughter of Irwin Dubrow, former manager of Dubrow's until his untimely suicide. She writes: "I did go to the cafeteria a few times and some of the old time staff took extra special care of me and showed me around the inner workings of the cafeteria. I remember seeing portraits of Benjamin, George and my father on the wall...I believe that my aunt Helene got some of them when the cafeteria closed. I have a cross stich that was made for me by one of the staff when I was born."

I'm hoping she can find that cross-stitch made by a Dubrow's staff member! I have been in touch with Helene but have not in New York, where she might have some of the memorabilia to which Barbara referred.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

"Dubrow's was like an indoor sidewalk cafe"

Found this reference to Dubrow's in the historical novel Subway Music by Reynold Joseph Paul Junker.

"Now I paused and looked left and right again.
'We used to go but I wanted to step around here to the left a minute. I wanted to see something else first. I wanted to see if Dubrow's is still here.'

I turned left. She followed. We walked the short distance to where Dubrow's used to be on the corner of King's Highway.

Dubrow's was gone from the corner of King's Highway. Dubrow's had been a single story cafeteria with floor to ceiling windows looking out over the sidewalk. Dubrow's was like an indoor sidewalk cafe. Families when to Dubrow's to enjoy "home cooking." We went to Dubrow's to stare and make creative faces and simulated retching noises through the windows at families enjoying their "home cooking."

'There used to be a Dubrow's Cafeteria here,' I said.'The firemen from the firehouse on 14th street used to send us there for takeout food - mostly veal cutlet sandwiches. There was no fast food in those days.'

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Still here

Man, it's been a long time since I updated this blog. Sorry about that. It's been a pretty difficult couple months for me personally.

I've received a couple comments from readers I thought I'd share:

Rick Festa writes: "I am Leo Martin's grandson and my memories of Dubrow's are so vivid...The stuffed roasted chicken really stands out in my mind, and have never found a stuffing like that since. I spent many hours there with my Grandfather as a young boy, and i can still remember that special smell of the place. I still remember the faces of the cooks and the cashiers and that cool change returner attached to the side of the register..."

Deborah Berman writes to ask about the recipe for "the most memorable bran muffins in the world." As always, I do not have any recipes - I wish I did! So far I haven't found anyone else who does, either.

Dan Russell writes to ask about a Dubrow's in Bensonhurst and another "famous one on 86th street" - I am not sure both of these he is recalling are Dubrow's, but the latter is probably the one on Eastern Parkway. Anyone remember a Dubrow's in Bensonhurst?

Finally, I also found an excerpt in The World on a Plate by Joel Denker about Dubrow's:

"Cafes also became center of Jewish cooking and companionship. The Garden cafeteria, next door to the Jewish Forward, was a gathering place for reporters, actors, intellectuals, and ethnics who worked in the neighborhood. Like an eastern Europe cafe, it buzzed with conversation and animated debate. Places like the Garden encouraged a breed of ethnic socializers that Isaac Singer, who was one of them, dubbed cafeterianiks.

The Garden, which opened in 1931, was organized like a cafeteria. Customers decided on their order, and the counterman punched the appropriate code on their ticket. There were the classic dairy choices - blintzes, varnishkes, soups. The display case revealed a tantalizing plates of smoked whitefish, herring and apple and other salads, cheese, and coffee cakes. Many diners were content with a piece of cake and tea or a bowl of chopped vegetables and fruit mixed with sour cream.

As the Lower East Side rag trade withered away, Jewish cafeterias and luncheonettes sprang up in the midtown Garment Center. Dubrow's, one of the most famous cafeterias, served up pirogen, gefilte fish, and roast chicken to cutters, jobbers, and pressmen. Irving Moskowitz, a Dubrow's Cafeteria customer for over thirty years, remembered it as a warm gathering place: 'It was more than just a place to eat. It was a meeting place. A place. You didn't get to know them [other customers]. But they were people, and you sort of knew them