Michael A. Burstein
Special to the Journal
The mood was mixed at Rubin’s Kosher Delicatessen in Brookline last Friday.
Late the night before, co-owner Allen Gellerman had come to the decision to close the deli. At 10:36 p.m., on the Rubin’s Facebook page, he had posted the following message:
“It’s with a heavy heart we have to announce that sadly Rubin’s will be closing its doors on Friday, August 5, at 3 p.m. We will miss all our loyal customers and we want to thank you for being such good friends to us. It was a pure pleasure talking with people from all parts of the world and always learning from them and of course enjoying being a part of the Brookline community. We loved seeing the way our children met lifelong friends thru Rubins and the Gann community and learn to appreciate their heritage. This was very special to Erica and I. We appreciated all the friends we made over the past 20 years. We wish everyone nothing but good things, health and happiness to all our loyal staff and the community. Thank you for all the good memories.”
– Erica & Allen Gellerman
The news spread slowly throughout the kosher-keeping community, somewhat more rapidly through the Boston foodie community. Not even all the staff knew about the announcement when they showed up to work the next day, and a few found out from customers who showed up, eager for one last meal at a favorite restaurant. (Disclosure: this reporter was one of the customers.)
All were surprised by the presence of local print, radio, and television media, all there to report on the closing of this historic restaurant.
Ironically, the announcement came on the Hebrew date of 1 Av, which begins a national period of religious mourning called the Nine Days. During this time, many religious Jews do not eat meat, meaning that their choices for a final meal at Rubin’s were limited to options not normally associated with a deli, such as omelettes or pancakes. There is also a tradition that bad things tend to happen during this time, and to many Boston-area Jews, the closing of a favorite restaurant underscored the somber mood.
Rubin’s was founded in the late 1920s by Morris Rubin at a time well before Brookline and the adjoining area of Allston-Brighton had the Jewish population it does today. Shuly Rubin Schwartz, a professor of American Jewish History and a dean at Jewish Theological Seminary, is the granddaughter of Morris and Edith Rubin. She said that the deli has been a constant presence for her family, even though she grew up on Long Island.
“The entire family is very sad,” she said. “I think that Rubin’s was important in that it nourished the Jewish community of Boston both in terms of the kosher food it served and the warm, loving Jewish communal setting that it offered to the community.”
She noted that Rubin’s was for a long time the only kosher restaurant in all of New England. Morris Rubin was so devoted to the kosher-keeping community that he even cleaned the restaurant for Pesach so people could buy food from him for the holiday, and he stayed open during chol ha’moed, the intermediate days of the holiday.
Rubin sold the restaurant in 1974 to Muriel and Carl Grupp, his brother’s daughter and son-in-law. They passed it on to their son and his wife, Larry and Rhonda Grupp, who sold the deli to the Gellermans in 1997.
The Gellermans had been talking about selling the restaurant for a while.
They sold the building and the restaurant to an investor, David Danesh. According to Gellerman, Danesh wants to keep a kosher restaurant going in that location and the possibility existed that Rubin’s would have continued close to its present form. However, as Gellerman put it, the possible deal “went back and forth” and finally, on Thursday around 4 p.m., Gellerman thought that perhaps it was now time to close the business.
Gellerman said that he was closing for only one reason: he wants to spend more time with his family. “We didn’t close for financial issues,” he said. Instead, he noted that over the years he and his wife owned Rubin’s, they would never get to spend as much time together as they would have liked.
“I’d be going to work in the evening and she would be coming home,” he said. “The last time I took a vacation with my family was 2005.”
The Gellermans raised a son and a daughter and got them both through college while running the deli. Their children also worked at the deli at times, which Gellerman said instilled in them a good work ethic and gave them an appreciation of their Jewish heritage.
“I brought up two good mensches because of Rubin’s,” he said. “My kids got both the street smarts and the book smarts. They would never have had this education going to any public or private schools.”
Running the deli took a toll on the whole family, as much as they enjoyed it. As Gellerman noted about his children, “They used to come home at night exhausted but they appreciated it. But they understood why their parents were tired.”
Although the closing was sudden, Gellerman wanted to make sure that the staff would be okay. He called around to local businesses to find employment for everyone who was working there.
Gellerman acknowledged that Rubin’s was more than just a restaurant, but also one of the cornerstones of the Boston Jewish community.
“On Friday, it felt like a shiva,” he said. “Everyone was coming in crying and kissing me and hugging me. Everyone was wishing us well.”
Many customers offered testimonials online and in person. “I ate at Rubin’s the first night I was in Boston for college, and it has been a fixture in my life here ever since,” said Andrew Marc Greene, who grew up in New York City and now lives in Newton. “I’m saddened by their closing and will miss them.”
Although Rubin’s is closed, Gellerman is hopeful that Danesh will find investors for a new kosher restaurant in the same location. Shuly Rubin Schwartz is hopeful too, and would love to see her family’s name continue to be part of the restaurant.
“My grandfather would have been thrilled if it continued with his name as long as it was a kosher establishment,” she said. “That’s what he cared about most. He understood the power of kashrut to bind the community together. And we know how essential food is to creating community.”