Serving Up Memories

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(Photo by David Stuck)

To the innumerable customers who enjoyed meals at Suburban House, it wasn’t just another restaurant.

However, after nearly eight decades, Suburban House (formerly known as S&H) has closed its doors.

On Dec. 27, when a JT reporter visited the restaurant, the doors of 1700 Reisterstown Road establisment were locked with a “closed” sign in the window. Owner Mark Horowitz says that “it’s with a heavy heart” he had to shut down the business on Dec. 22.

The restaurant was founded as S&H by Henry H. Cohen and his brother, Sydney, in 1939. Horowitz and former majority owner Joe Stowe bought the restaurant in 1985, and Horowitz ran the business as sole owner since 2014.

“I really can’t comment because of a legal [matter],” he said. “I have to protect the integrity of the people involved. Because I’ve owned that restaurant for 34 years, it’s heartbreaking that I had to do that, but a whole lot of factors go into it. It was my life, but situations change.”

Suburban House owner Mark Horowitz, left, and former majority owner Joe Stowe pose outside of the relocated Suburban House in July 2010. (Photo by Kirsten Beckerman)

Though Horowitz left exact details scarce as of press time, he did note that the current restaurant was twice the size of its previous Reisterstown Road location, which closed after a fire in 2009, and that rent had increased.

In a story from the May 25, 2007, edition of the JT, longtime Baltimorean and historian Gilbert Sandler wrote about the old location of the Suburban House, calling it “the last of something.”

“[It’s] unrepentantly circa 1960, or earlier,” he wrote. “Many there at breakfast, lunch and/or dinner have the look of what’s left of the gang that rode the last No. 33 streetcar up Park Heights Avenue, went to the last show at the old Forest Theatre on a Saturday afternoon and jitterbugged at the last Jewish high school fraternity dance at City College. When they sit down and scan the menu, their ravenous eyes glaze over, out goes the diet.”

In his article, Sandler took in the “certain quirkiness about the place.”

“The waitresses seem to have been there forever — some have, at least for the years that this Suburban House has been open,” he wrote. “There are any number of Saturday (and Sunday) morning regulars at the Suburban House. They sit at the same table, are served by the same waitresses and order the same things.”

Longtime customers recalled the restaurant’s family- friendly atmosphere and legendary community status and mourned for their favorite dishes from the Jewish deli-style restaurant, from the matzoh ball soup to rainbow cookies.

Cindy McWilliams Schuster of Manchester, Md., remembered past family celebrations held at Suburban House.

“The three-way bagel with lox and whitefish salad was my fav,” she wrote on the JT’s Facebook page. “The Yiddish placemats made me smile, the soup was perfect when not feeling well, and the sense of little change and [it] being a community place will be missed.”

Suburban House served a Jewish deli-style menu to dedicated customers for decades. (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Courtney Bluefeld of Baltimore had similar family memories there.

“[I] went with my grandparents Ruth and Harlem Schloss at least once a week until the early 2000s,” Bluefeld wrote on Facebook. “[We] had the same waitresses over the years who remembered me as a child and then met my children. I never had to worry about my babies being loud because everyone welcomed them, and, of course, they always got a free rainbow cookie! The greatest childhood memories and the original matzoh ball soup cannot be duplicated! A favorite!! It was never the same after the move, but I will forever have the warmest memories of S&H, as my grandparents called it.”

Anita Ginsberg Friedman witnessed one of the most iconic moments in American history from Suburban House.

“I was there with my boyfriend at the time; we were probably eating french fries and gravy. They had a TV set up, and we watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the moon,” she remembered. “It was a memorable moment for me. When it was next to the Pikesville Theater, I went a lot. I was really sad when I found out it closed. I’ve been living in New York for the past 38 years, but when I would come to Baltimore, that was the place I would go to meet friends for breakfast or lunch. That was always the place to go.”

David Hess, who worked at the restaurant for 20 years (and was a general manager for the majority of his time there), says the “servers knew everybody” who came through its doors.

“We had some great customers,” Hess remembered. “Whenever we got a call that we had lost one of our customers, [some of the waitresses] would break down and cry. There’s a lot of good memories. The history has come to an end.”

Ted Merwin, executive director of Beth Am Synagogue and author of “Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli,” said Suburban House is “one in a long line of delis that have closed in recent years across the country.”

Gov. Larry Hogan chats with a Suburban House customer in October 2015 while on the campaign trail. (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

“I think it’s a type of restaurant that’s waning in popularity because the kinds of food sold in a Jewish deli can be found pretty much anywhere nowadays,” he said. “You don’t have to go to a deli to be able to eat it.”

Merwin also noted that delis are no longer the Jewish hangouts they once were and instead attract customers from various backgrounds.

“It’s not the place that you can go to be in the company of other Jews, although Suburban House had a pretty sizable Jewish clientele,” he said. “There are delis that are being opened by a younger generation of entrepreneurs, but Baltimore isn’t Miami Beach or Los Angeles. Delis have to fight harder and harder for a market share because they are seen as being old world. It’s a rarity nowadays to have an ethnic food that is around for that amount of time.”

The loss of Suburban House will leave a noticeable gap in the Pikesville community, said Jessica Normington, executive director of the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce.

“The news of Suburban House closing is a sad one and leaves me in shock,” she said. “[It] always had a following, but it happens to the best of us. It is sad to see any business close, but this one especially since they have been a part of the community for so long. I hope we are able to fill the void they leave behind.”

(Photo by Justin Tsucalas)
Onlookers survey the
damage after a fire at Suburban House’s previous location in 2009. (Photo by Justin Tsucalas)

Suburban House Setbacks

Suburban House also faced its share of trials. In July 2009, its old location at 911 Reisterstown Road burned down in a three-alarm fire, forcing Horowitz to reopen in the Pomona Square Plaza one year later.

In February 2017, the JT reported that a class-action lawsuit had been filed by three former employees in the U.S. District Court of Maryland in November 2016. They claimed that Horowitz failed to pay employees at least $3.63 per hour, the pre-tipped minimum wage required by Maryland’s Fair Labor Standards Act.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Howard B. Hoffman, said that the case was ultimately dismissed but that they plan to take further action against Horowitz.

“I’d say it was an undeserved win,” Hoffman said of the case. “If you look at the papers that were filed in the case, you get a sense for why it should never have been dismissed at the pre-discovery stage. The court refused to consider any testimony and didn’t consider the defendants’ own admissions that they owed, at least one of the workers, money. We’ve got it up in the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and we’re looking to reverse it.”

Horowitz’s attorney, Melanie Glickson, withdrew from the case in May, according to court documents.

On July 25, 2017, the Baltimore County Department of Health noted several violations in the restaurant in its Food Service Facility Inspection Report.

The inspector, Cara Dunne, reported that an undisclosed number of employees were in violation of not properly washing or covering their hands during food preparation. In addition, the cold holding temperature for food products was not up to code.

“Upon investigation, I found staff at facility serving prepped food without gloves and soiled refrigeration units,” the sanitarian wrote. “Non-food contact surfaces are soiled, for example, shelving, refrigerator doors and shelves, gaskets, drawers and interiors of packaged food display cases.”

A representative from the Baltimore County Department of Health confirmed that the establishment did not close because of these violations.

(Photo by David Stuck)

Ultimately, the longevity of Suburban House is something that Merwin says should be “celebrated.”

“I think what you have to think about is how long they were in business,” he said. “Suburban House was openly catering to a suburban Jewish clientele. I always found that interesting about their name. Suburban delis were important across the country. They helped Jews feel a sense of connection to one another and their heritage.”

Horowitz will always remember his customers fondly.

“I loved the people who came in; they’re family,” he said. “When you deal with five generations of people, they become part of your life. Those are the relationships that keep you going. I’m very good-hearted, I love people, and I love to show it. That’s what makes a mark in society. It’s not about how much money you make. It’s all about people.”

abelt@midatlanticmedia.com

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1 COMMENT

  1. I was excited to see our deli on the cover today, but sad knowing it was the end.
    I have many fond memories of working there, mostly ,of our old girls Ms Argie, Ms Emma , Ms Ceil, and Ms Barbra.
    One of my customers once told me we were her Cheers and for me that’s how I will remember it, I think we were the Cheers of Pikesville. so many wonderful customers. I truly miss them and think of all of them often. I hope they know that. I remember coming in and smelling the brisket or turkeys cooking in the ovens. nothing could smell any better.
    But for me Suburban closed in 2014 when Joe Stowe left. I knew it would never be the same. He dedicated his life to the deli and he loved it. when you own a business it’s like a marriage. he sacrificed so much for it.
    But I knew when Mark Horowitz came back ,it would be a struggle. Mark just did not have the same dedication that Joe did, I knew we were doomed. Shortly after his return he put the signs up MARK IS BACK. like who cared . what arrogance and ego.
    I felt bad reading the other employees were fired or were forced to leave because Mark failed to pay them correctly( or at all.) but not a surprise , he chased out all of the help that were there for years . Mark can be a wolf in sheep clothing .
    In the end, I suppose Mark is right, he is a legend, he IS the man that shut down (and ruined) Suburban House, and he drove every nail in that coffin by himself. so much for MARK IS BACK.

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