Friday, May 20, 2005

"The horse and buggy in a world of automobiles"

This is an excellent article about the closing of Dubrow's, written by Joanne Gruber, who is also one of Benjamin Dubrow's grandchildren. My aunt Beth sent me three different articles from various places about Dubrow's - this is the first time I've had a chance to type them up. I'll scan the photos from the articles in and post those, too, in time.

“Mourning Dubrow’s” by Joanne Gruber
New York Magazine, August 12th, 1985

The other night, a character actor named Leib Lensky was sitting in the middle of Dubrow’s, the huge cafeteria on Seventh Avenue at 38th street that he’s been going to for more than twenty years. Lensky, a bearded, five-foot-tall man who’ll admit to being “over seventy,” methodically carved up his boiled chicken and read his Yiddish and English newspapers at his usual table, but he seemed morose.

Like many other regular customers, he knew that Dubrow's, one of the last of the city’s counter service cafeterias, would soon be closing down. “I feel terrible,” said Lensky, who is best remembered for playing the senile Russian priest in Woody Allen’s Love and Death. “For me it’s a problem, because I’m by myself. They treated me like I’m family here.”

For 33 years, Dubrow’s, built by Russian immigrant Benjamin Dubrow, was the spiritual center of the garment district. Along with Leib Lensky, some 4,000 customers a day came throught its Art Deco dining room and take-out department to get reliable, heaping portions of blintzes, brisket, fresh pastries, an tidbits of industry gossip.

The most popular item on the menu was the noodles and cheese, at $2 a plate. For $4.50, you could get half of a roast chicken, two vegetables, a roll, salad, and soup or juice.

Dubrow’s clientele included such celebrities as Paul Newman, Nelson Rockefeller, and Myron Cohen. Last year, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story “The Cafeteria” was brought to life there on PBS, with longtime customers appearing as extras.

But fast food competitors, the shrinking of the city’s garment industry, and steadily rising operating costs finally convinced co-owners Irving Kaplan and Paul Tobin (the founder’s son-in-law and grandson) to sell their lease to the landlords, who in turn have sold the building for more than $5 million to the Phillips International Holding Company, run by real estate developer Philip Pivesky.

“It’s like the end of an era,” said Kaplan. “But times change; we’re like the horse and buggy in a world of automobiles.”

Last week, the place was visited by armies of well-wishers who came in to bid the owners and staff goodbye. The younger customers will presumably go somewhere else to buy their kaiser rolls, but the older regulars who sat there and schmoozed all evening, nursing a Danish and a cup of coffee, feel they won’t easily find another home.
“Here they know me,” said Leib Lensky. “I had my privileges “


Debra Gussman, MD said...

Does any one have any stories about Leib Lensky? He was a dear friend of my grandparents. I want to make a web page in his honor.
Please contact me at

Eve said...

You might want to start (if you haven't already) with his IMDB page:

Also, see this earlier post for a nice photo of Lensky: