Sunday, March 21, 2010

Dubrow's cleaning crew

Here's the picture of the 1940 cleaning crew which Henry Jablonski refers to in the interview I conducted with him. He says that he is in this picture with his father - he started his career at Dubrow's as a boy and worked as a dishwasher. His father (Henry Jablonski Sr) was a counterman.  

Mr. Jablonski is the the young-looking boy who is fourth on the right.  His father is not in this picture.  The hand-written caption on the picture also names Mike Nagreski (spelling uncertain) and Pete Kolody and "German chef."  

Interview with Henry Jablonski, Part 3

This is the third and final installment of the interview I conducted with former employee Henry Jablonski.  Parts one at two can be found in the two previous posts.

Eve: So in terms of the people and the environment at Dubrow’s, what did you like best and what did you like least?

Henry: Well, first of all the people who worked in Dubrow’s in those days, were more elderly people.  Today, you go to most fast food stores, it’s mostly young people, or people between jobs,  ahh, school or something. The workforce is altogether different.  It was family people, lot of men like my father who raised his family, many many people I know had families, but today, it’s different, it’s a different story.

Eve: Yeah, it’s interesting, just like many generations of my father worked there, it sounds like multiple generations of your family worked there, your father, you, your son…

Henry: Yeah, other people I know, I also kept in contact with,  in the years after I left Dubrow’s, of course they’ve passed away now,  they were all family people…they wanted me to work in New York, I said, no, I didn’t want to go on the subway anymore, I had enough, so I got a job with the food service for colleges,  on the island, that’s what I was doing, when I retired.

Eve: Are there other specific people you remember from your time working at Dubrow’s?

Henry:  George Dubrow, and Pop Dubrow, for instance,  and there was an elderly gentleman, a very nice gentleman,  I remember him.  He had a driver, I remember he used to drive him, named Joe Hackett.  He drove, we called him Pop Dubrow,  he came to visit my family once, um, we moved to Queens and um,  it was right after the war, and it was summertime,  I was going to take the week off to paint, and uh, get the house in shape,  wallpaper the house,  George Dubrow said,  “no, I need you in the store,  he says, I’ll take care of it,.  So he sent a painter, a wallpaperer in,  my whole house painted and wallpapered.  He took care of it. He was good that way. 

Eve: What was the driver’s name again?

Henry: Hackett. Joe Hackett.  He drove Pops Dubrow all around, wherever he wanted to go,  until he passed away.  Cause Pop’s problem was, one day he couldn’t eat.  Forward’s newspaper, the Jewish newspaper,  caused it,  fell off the chair I understand, and he hurt himself, and ah, then he started deteriorating. 

Eve: That’s Benjamin Dubrow you’re calling Pop?

Henry: Old man Pop. 

Eve: I don’t remember him referred to by that name? That’s Benjamin Dubrow?

Henry: That’s what we, that’s what we…George, Georgie got killed in an automobile accident, that you know, in Florida, right?

Eve: I did know about George’s accident, yes.  So Pops Dubrow was George’s father?

Henry: Right, and he had no seatbelt on, there were no seatbelts in cars in those days, the door opened up and he fell out onto his head.  In fact, after that, I was in the Air Force, and I had a seat belt harness, memorbilia, so I put a seat belt in the front seat of my car.

Eve: So was there anything you didn’t like about working at Dubrow’s?

Henry: No….no,…it was…if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t be there, I would have done something else.  Near the end, it was getting real hard, when Paul took over,  the Eastern, I mean the King’s Highway store,  he had a lot on his mind, I can understand, the store was going down,  King’s Highway, his problem, New York…he was originally in the stock market,  he didn’t want to work in the restaurant,  he wanted to get away from, causing the debts in the family, Max Tobin, and George, and he ended up with the stores, more or less, and they had problems…

Eve: Yeah,  the impression I got was that the reason my grandfather got in was to help Paul Tobin out.

Henry: Right, right…he didn’t want that line of work.  That’s the impression we got. But he couldn’t help himself.

Eve: So after Dubrow’s, you said you left because you didn’t want to go to Manhattan, and you went to college cafeteria?

Henry: Yeah, cafeterias were dying out.  There were a lot of cafeterias, I could mention a lot of names, but they all passed on, one by one,  I was looking for a job and there were no more cafeterias, really,  end of the line so to speak, and of course around that time I was sixty years old, they were looking for young people to work in fast food places and I wasn’t interested in that, and uh I got a job at Lackland Food Service on the, on the Long Island, I used to take care of the colleges, like Queens College and Adelphi and things like that.  I worked at these colleges until I retired.

Eve: Is there any restaurant today that resembles Dubrow’s?

Henry: Not to my knowledge.  The only thing, the food, you might see at a banquet , you might see something like that.  But you gotta remember, this food was made like banquet styles but for a poorer clientele, without all the fancy trimmings and extra expense. There’s no stores around like that anymore. At Dubrow’s, everything came in, when you ordered like a meat, a whole half a cow was coming, or fish, a whole halibut, a hundred pound halibut. So you had the butcher, or somebody who knows how to cut the meat up. When I went to work for the colleges, everything came in packages. In boxes and packages all cut up.  So it was altogether different.  And the preservatives, that was another thing that was different.  Everything was frozen with preservatives,  and canned. I think that’s part of the trouble today, all the food is sold in little packages and prepared, and a lot of preservatives, and you wonder sometimes why people are getting sick, getting diseases, more than in the old days. In the old days everyting you had was fresh.  It was a big difference.

Eve: Are there other memories of Dubrow’s or other people you wanted to offer some stories about?

Henry: Yeah, 1940…the only time the stores were closed, you know, when they had Jewish holidays,  they closed, you know, overnight and we had to clean the whole store, top to bottom. It was the only time we ever closed. 

Eve: Those pictures of the cleaning crews were great. So was one of those when you were a dishwasher? 

Henry: Right, right, the first one, when I was a dishwasher there. Later on, after I came back from the service, the war,  I wasn’t looking to be,  I was a mechan - I went to school,  that’s why I worked at Dubrow’s while I went to aviation school as a mechanic, and I got my license as a mechanic, and then of course the war breaks out, and uh after the war there were so many mechanics and of course the aviation industry wasn’t going good, it was nothing doing, everybody, and I worked at Dubrow’s before, so I worked at Dubrow’s, never thinking I’m going to end up at Dubrow’s because I want for the fireman’s test, I passed the test for firemen in New York City but my cousin got hurt as a fireman so my wife said no, look for something else.  So years went on before you knew it and that’s the way it went.

Eve: Well, this has been great, as I said I may be in touch in the future with further questions.  Thank you so much.

Henry: If there’s anything else you want to know, just call. I’d be glad to tell you.

I did also get his permission to pass his information on to Marcia Bricker Halperin, who is continuing to work on getting a documentary made about Dubrow's and Brooklyn.

I love what he said about the value and uniqueness of having fresh made food, available for the masses at cheap prices.  It's what Michael Pollan has been on a mission to promote today - yet it seems we used to have it, and have lost it in the past fifty years.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Interview with Henry Jablonski, Part 2

Here's some more of the interview I did with Henry Jablonski.  This picks up where Part 1 leaves off.  

Eve: So how did you come to work at Dubrow’s? you said you started off in high school?

Henry: Oh, my father, for many years,  many years ago earlier, one of those pictures I think is 1940,  I’m there as a young boy, my father is there, my father worked in cafeterias, for many years.

Eve: What did your father do?  What was his name?

Henry:  Same name as mine, Henry. I was junior.  He was a counterman. Those days, you know cafeterias,  well I’ll explain cafeterias to you,  you think of food stores today,  they have a pretty bad reputation, everybody thinks cafeterias have bad food or what have you,  but the days of Dubrow’s and other cafeterias,  you gotta remember, it’s like home cooking, you can’t get food like that today, only in banquets or maybe a fancy hotel someplace,  like Dubrow’s, both Dubrow’s had all the carving stations,  all kinds of meat, pastrami, corned beef,  what do you call it, round cow,  it was carved right in front of you,  put it on your plate, the girl down the line would ask you what vegetables you want, It was a real meal, a home cooked meal, so to speak. Today, you don’t have that.  All the meals you get today are fast food,  all packaged and everything else, in those days, everything was more or less made fresh, the potatoes were peeled fresh, even the orange juice, we used to squeese oranges, we didn’t have Tropicana and things like that.  But the only trouble was, all these stores, cost, in those days, when labor was reasonable, you could afford it, we had a baker, a chef,  a butcher, besides your ordinary, uh,  people that work in these stores. 

On Eastern Parkway, it was so popular on a Sunday,  we had to let people, people waiting outside, when one of them came out, we had, uh, we had a doorman to let people in and out for awhile. It was a heyday.

Eve: Do you remember why Eastern Parkway closed?

Henry:  The neighborhood changed, after the war, a lot of people were there,  for instance, a lot of people you wouldn’t know but you know, doctors, actors,  businesspeople,  like Sam Levinson, but these people started moving out to Long Island after the way,  all these towns sprouted up, people moving away, getting away from the crowded tenements I guess,  moved out to these reasonable houses, out to the island,  the neighborhood changed.  It changed, and new people started moving in, and it was Central America or colored people moving in, I remember one time someone came up to George and George said,  “what can I do?  I can’t do anything about it.”  The neighborhood changed.  Eastern Parkway, you wouldn’t know it, but in those days, it was, they had trees and benches,  people used to sit there and read and talk, and talk and read,  no fear of being mugged or anything.  And in the end, neighborhoods change.  A little while ago, a couple years, I don’t know how many years, I heard they had abandoned cars on the street,  benches were broken up, and it deteriorated, so business went down.  That was Eastern Parkway,  for King’s Highway, it was also a business area, it was nice, but then they opened a big shopping center down further in Brooklyn,  and the business went that way.

Eve: What do you remember most about the experience about working there?

Henry: Well, what can I say, I remember in its heyday, when that part of Brooklyn was very nice,  then over the years I see it deteriorating in front of me,  first one store, then the other store, it was very depressing, after a while. But the country changes, so that’s the way it is today. 

Eve: Now, you mentioned that you actually served in the military as well? What years was that?

Henry: Yeah, the Air Force. ‘40 to ‘46.

Eve: What do you remember about the food at Dubrow’s, since it was all about the food?

Henry: The food was good.  All homemade, you can always remember the meats were all, the dairy, we used to make this rice pudding, the kugels,  things like that, it was made fresh,  You can’t find it any place today, I’ve looked for it. Or danish,  that’s another thing. We used to make danishes, with butter and everything else,  people used to know what time the danishes were ready and come out to buy it.  Today you buy danishes, boxed to serve, they don’t taste the same.  People today don’t realize what food used to taste like.  Fresh foods. Cause everything has changed so much. 

Eve: I’ve been very impressed by how many people remember very specific foods from Dubrow’s…

Henry: Another thing we used to do, when it came to Thanksgiving, we had Thanksgiving of couse, and at Eastern Parkway, we used to take orders at Thanksgiving, for dinner, not like today, in those days, “what time for you want your dinner?” 3 o’clock, 2 o’clock, it didn’t matter, anyway we’d have turkeys, made fresh about that time and all the vegetables are hot and fresh and the pie was just freshly baked, so when you took it out and took it home, it would, you would leave it right in the box, took it right home, so the person didn’t even have to heat it, and today, you go to Boston Market or some place, and they’re made ahead of time, it’s not the same.  Food’s not made the same way anymore.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Interview with Henry Jablonski, Part 1

I did a phone interview with Mr. Jablonski on March , 2010.   I am almost done transcribing it, but I thought I would go ahead and start posting it, probably over the course of three or four posts.

Eve: So the first question is, how long did you work at Dubrow’s?

Henry: How long? All together, about thirty years.  I worked there, eh, 1940…I was going to high school,  dishwashing, you know, for the summer,  and when I graduated I worked there for awhile,  and I was going to go to school and then a war broke out and I went into the service,  I didn’t go back to Dubrow’s until after the war, so in 1947, and uh, worked there until it closed.  Eastern Parkway closed, and then I worked at King’s Highway,  I didn’t work in New York, my son worked in New York, one summer. 

Eve: What was your son’s name?

Henry: Greg. Greg Jablonski.  They had another store called, they had a bakery, called Dubson’s. Interesting store, because it was a storefront, second story,  a floor down, and it had high ceilings, carved ceilings, and at the far end of the store was a big window so you could watch the bakers bake things…I’m not sure exactly what happened,  George got killed or something, turned it over to Adler or something and then they ran the Eastern Parkway store, but I think the bake shop and the Eastern Parkway store, we had a bake shop there until the end,  for the holidays and stuff like that.

Eve:  So did you work on King’s Highway until it closed as well?

Henry: Yes,  over on King’s Highway, for Mr. Tobin.  I worked for Mr. Tobin until he passed away. 

Eve:  Max Tobin?

Henry:  Yes, and his son, Paul Tobin…I do recall around that time, I was going home from work one day and I suppose I was mugged in the street.  I was in the hospital for a month or so and I came back, and this movie they made, Boardwalk, sort of a racial movie I guess, with all the college kids running around in that area, it wasn’t very popular,  but I have the whole review of the movie, which I will send you if you’re interested, when my sons come back for the holiday. 

Eve:   I definitely would like to see that.

Henry: Yeah, what was interesting about that was the entrance to King’s Highway store had a curved glass window,  you know, pretty much all the glass you see if flat, you know,  plate glass, well this plate glass was curved, expensive, so in the movie they, I guess these kids had to break this window,  I sort of forget for what reason they had to break this window,  it was in anger or whatever. So the movie company had to take this plate glass window and put over it this phony window that looked like the real thing,  so the window that was broken in the movie was not the real window, but a phony they put up.  It was a very expensive, curved window, from the floor to the ceiling. It was more or less based on the Dubrow’s family, I mean, they didn’t mention the names, but it was Janet Leigh and…I sort of forget the other people.

Eve:   So what positions did you work at the various stores? You said you were a dishwahser to start…

Henry:  Oh, I was a manager, when I was a kid I was a dishwasher, when I was in school.  I was a manager of both stores.  Assistant manager, manager, you know, there were a couple managers. Day manager, night manager,  we split shifts.

Eve:   So of both King’s Highway and of Eastern Parkway?

Henry: That’s right.