Every dish has a story to tell. Even the ones that don’t quite make it on the menu. Harold “Groucho” Miller’s parents immigrated from Russia at the turn of the 20th century. While Miller and his family are known across South Carolina for their popular deli outfit, Groucho’s Deli, there’s one menu item that didn’t quite make the cut. While working as the emcee at a Philadelphia vaudeville theater in the 1920s, Miller befriended a Russian Jewish comedian. Here, Miller learned to make one of his favorite treats—Russian Blintzes.
Blintzes are a time-consuming and labor-intensive dish, but worth the effort. They were available for sale at Miller’s Deli on opening day in 1940. Because of the cooking process, the blintzes had to be cooked at the Millers’ home in Shandon and brought in every day. The sweet treats soon disappeared from the deli’s menu. They remained, however, a Shabbat staple in the Miller house.
Harold “Groucho” Miller, Ethel Miller, John Gottlieb, Minnie Gottlieb, and a member of Miller’s Staff.
Groucho in 1948
Fortunately, Harold Miller’s grandson Bruce, shared his family’s favorite recipe with Kugels and Collards—the new digital repository from the Columbia Jewish Heritage Initiative. Historic Columbia, in partnership with the College of Charleston’s Jewish Heritage Collection, the Jewish Community Center of Columbia and Columbia Jewish Federation, the Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina and Richland Library, has established the Columbia Jewish Heritage Initiative—a multi-discipline project, which will document as well as provide access and awareness to local Jewish history.
Kugels and Collards is a blog devoted to the exploration of Southern Jewish cuisine. The project seeks to preserve and share the history of Southern cooking in Columbia’s Jewish community. Each memory shared can be accessed freely on the Kugels and Collards blog. For Miller’s full Blintzes recipe, and to submit your own recipe and story, please visit kugelsandcollards.org or send an email to kugelsandcollards (at) historiccolumbia.org. Also, be sure to check out the Jewish Heritage walking tour available for free HERE.
As part of the Columbia Jewish Heritage Initiative, Historic Columbia has been conducting research on Jewish owned businesses in downtown Columbia. Below are a few highlights of our recent research.
Barrett Visanska first appears as a jeweler on Richardson (Main) Street in the Columbia City Directory in 1875. He moved his business to 1215 Hampton Street, in the rear portion of the Sylvan’s Building in 1904, where he remained in business until his death in 1932. Like most of Columbia’s Jewish population in the late-19th and early-20th century, Barrett immigrated from Eastern Europe (Poland) and led a prosperous life. His son, Morton, was a founder of Columbia’s Town Theater, and his son, Daniel, and daughter, Bertha, were musicians who played for royalty in Europe.
Polish immigrant Ben David operated the Parlor Restaurant at 1336 Main Street from 1900 until 1910, when plans for the Arcade Mall forced him to relocate. His advertisements in the Columbia City Directory and USC’s Garnet and Black yearbook often included his likeness. His obituary in The State newspaper remembered him fondly as “Uncle Ben.”
The I. Cassel Cigar Factory, owned and operated by Isidor Cassel (1872 – 1954), was a tenant in the Phoenix Building (1623-1625 Main Street) for more than 40 years. Cassel immigrated from Ritschenwalde, Germany, to the United States in 1884. He joined the United States Marine Corps when he was 15 and served more than three years. He arrived in Columbia in 1892 to work for Henry Bamberg (1857 – 1919), a highly regarded cigar manufacturer and who served as the first treasurer of the Tree of Life Congregation. In 1896, Cassel married Bamberg’s sister-in-law, Estelle “Essie” Epstin Cassel (1877 – 1948). In 1901, Cassel opened his own cigar manufacturing business in the 1400 block of Main Street.
Join Historic Columbia on March 12th for our Sunday Stroll of downtown Jewish sites to learn more about the Visanskas, “Uncle Ben”, the Cassels and other downtown merchants in Columbia. This guided walking tour will highlight Columbia’s Jewish heritage and explore how Jewish merchants have shaped this downtown district. The tour will begin in front of Michael’s on Main Street, travel down to Lady Street where the tour will cross over to Assembly Street, then end at The Big Apple on Hampton Street.
Also be sure to check out HC’s web-based tour of Jewish historical sites in Columbia.