Famous in its day: Wolfie’s

Wilfred Cohen was an opener. He’d buy or start up a restaurant and once it became a success he would sell it for a nice profit. The former Catskills busboy came to Miami Beach around 1940 and bought Al’s Sandwich Shop on 23rd St. off Collins Ave., selling it after turning it into a popular spot “known coast to coast.”

Overstuffed sandwiches were his ticket. In a short ten years or so he opened and sold not only Al’s but four other restaurants, among them Wolfie’s at Collins and 21st St., which would become a landmark and continue until 2002. Wilfred “Wolfie” Cohen would keep just one of his restaurants, The Rascal House, located on motel row at 172nd St. Wolfie Cohen died in 1986 but his Rascal House survived until 2008.

In the end the original Wolfie’s at 21st Street became known as “the” Wolfie’s, but at one time there were at least two others of significance, a flashier Wolfie’s at Collins and Lincoln Rd. and another in North Miami Beach. Both closed around 1983. Whether Cohen was involved with all three is unclear but I am fairly sure that the Wolfie’s, original included, were backed by financial syndicates. There were also, at various times, Wolfie’s branches or franchises in St. Petersburg, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, Gainesville, Cocoa Beach, and Jacksonville. Brooklyn NY’s Wolfie’s, though, was an entirely different operation.

The boom years for Wolfie’s and all of Miami Beach’s deli-style eateries came after World War II when Jewish veterans and retirees, mostly from New York and the Northeast, flowed into Miami Beach by the thousands as permanent residents, snowbirds, and tourists. Then, lines of people often wound around the block waiting to get into Wolfie’s. So closely was Wolfie’s identified with Miami Beach that in 1959 Northeast Airlines chose it to cater meals for Miami-to-NY passengers; Lindy’s supplied delicacies to those flying south.

Wolfie’s was a 24-hour-a-day haven for the elderly living in kitchenless beachfront rooming houses (destined to be restored as art deco boutique hotels in the 1990s). It also attracted politicians looking for the liberal vote and visiting borscht-belt performers such as Milton Berle and Henny Youngman, as well as big and little gangsters and bookies with a yen for chicken livers, pastrami, and cheesecake. In the 1970s mobster Meyer Lansky, pursuing the simple life of a philosophical, Chevrolet-driving, book-borrowing library patron, was often spotted noshing in Wolfie’s.

By the mid-1980s, after the original Pumperniks closed (another Wolfie Cohen 1950s start-up), Wolfie’s was one of few, or perhaps the only, large-scale deli left on the South Beach. Pumperniks’ owner Charles Linksman attributed Wolfie’s survival to its proximity to theaters and boxing ring. That and tourism helped it get through the next decade, but a sense of decline was inescapable. The Beach’s population of Jewish retirees dropped dramatically, due to natural causes as well as a flight northward to Broward and Palm Beach counties to escape a perceived threat of crime and a cultural shift.

In its waning days Wolfie’s still managed to draw foreign and domestic tourists, such as moi, seeking vestiges of the old Miami Beach. I can’t remember what I ordered but I’m certain it wasn’t a Bowl of Sour Cream with Cottage Cheese ($4.75). I wasn’t quite in the “what’s a blintz?” category of so many patrons then, but close.

© Jan Whitaker, 2011

81 Comments

Filed under food, history, restaurants

81 responses to “Famous in its day: Wolfie’s

  1. Dawn Felsing

    I used to eat at Wolfie’s on Collins and Lincoln with my parents in the 60’s. We lived in Hollywood but would go down to Miami to walk on the Lincoln Rd. Mall with out of town guests. I loved the sour green tomatoes, now that I’m 67, and have a garden with an abundance of green tomatoes, i have searched in vain for a recipe.

    • Barb Nahoumi

      Hi Dawn,

      My Grandmother used to make her own pickled green tomatoes. I think that she made the same brine whick she would use for half-sour pickles. Sorry, but I don’t have her recipe. However, you can find recipes by googling “Pickled Green Tomatoes.”

  2. Bill

    Anyone have the recipe for Wolfie’s salt sticks? They were tapered cylinders with caraway seeds….the best potznik@aol.com

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  4. linda meiners

    My mother Jewell is in the picture at the counter as well as Lulu Pelletier and Rose Grammes. I have known them since I was a little girl. My mother started to work there in 1950 and retired 35 years later when it closed. She made a good living raising me by herself. Many fond memories of the staff and food.

  5. I was a server at Wolfies in St Petersburg in the early 70s when they closed the doors and didn’t pay us our back pay!!!!!!!!

  6. M Rosenblum

    Oh the memories in the 60s. We stayed at the Seagull Hotel at 21st street every year across from Wolfies. I think we ate at Wolfies all the time. My fondest memory was the bread basket– my grandmother always had a bag in her purse and dumped the rolls in the bag, there was a period when you could not take the rolls so my grandfather would flick his cigarette ashes. As a kid it was a great place to eat. Miss it…

  7. Bobbi

    Hi. I’m from the uk stumbled across your site whilst browsing. I have wonderful memories of Wolfies Collins Ave,Florida. During a visit to Miami in 1989 my cousin & friends, who were also visiting from Canada, suggested we ate there. It was nothing I’d ever experienced before, or since actually. From the lines to get it depending on how many in your party, the baskets of delicious & varied bread rolls on the table, the waitresses & how they were dressed , the diners who arrived in big cars & wore expensive jewellery and , of course, the delicious food. I remember ordering a hot roast beef sandwich with gravy (which I had no idea what to expect) & on another visit my son & I had the biggest strawberry tarts (or was it cheesecake) I’ve ever seen. I have a photo of us looking at them with big smiles on our faces ready to ‘dive in’. I remember watching a re-run of Golden Girls on TV & they mentioned going to Wolfies it brought back such great memories of that holiday.

    Thank you for allowing me to re-live these memories from across the pond. :)

  8. Wow, bur two words sums it up for me MOGAMBO EXTRAVAGANZA. When I was in high school in a band in St. Pete after a gig we would go to Wolfie’s Central Plaza and order a round of Mogambos. That’s a lot of scoops. And it went great with those pickles!

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  10. Barb

    I remember a deli in Miami Beach called Pinky’s. They had dishes of half sour pickles on the tables. Sooo good. Can anyone else recall this eatery?

  11. Anonymous

    Wolfies is one of the reasons I became a chef, eating there when I was 7 changed my life.

  12. Chuck

    Thanks so much for rekindling some wonderful memories. Ate at Wolfie’s, Pumpernik’s and Rascal House. After they all closed found my way to Moe’s in Aventura which was not quite the same, but still ok.
    Now living in St. Petersburg, and sadly nothing like it here.

  13. Having spent 13 months at the usmc base at Opalocka in ’52 & ’53 and much time on the beach. After Wolfies on Lincoln rd he opened Wolfies no name on Collins in the 60’s — the customers were given a ballot to choose a name and Pumpernicks was chosen. ——bert

  14. Dani

    I used to visit Wolfies on 21st while living a block away on Liberty Ave and 20th. So many changes have occurred in the area. Miss the old days.

  15. Pete

    I remember the Wolfie’s in St. Pete Fl. on central ave. Great place.

  16. Wolfie’s was THE place to go in Ft. Lauderdale, on Sunrise Blvd., near the beach. It was a favorite place to take dates! The last time I ate there was in October 1984, with my sister and mom. The coleslaw and pickles were always a favorite…and the sandwiches, OMG…and the ice cream! I’ve been living in Atlanta since 1977 and Atlanta has nothing to compare to it.

  17. George Dukas

    My dad Jim “Duke” Dukas may have been a manager for Wolfie’s on Collins ave in the early 60’s. He did open as a manager of the Cocoa beach store and he moved us from Miami in 65 to Gainesville and was the manager there. Attached to the Ramada Inn now Holiday Inn on Univ. ave and 13th st.

    • Charley Priddy

      Mr. Dukas, Was there a Wolfie’s in Orlando, at the Colonial Mall? I’m from Cocoa Beach and the Wolfie’s there, the restaurant in the Ramada Inn brings back great ‘food’ memories! I seem to recall one in Orlando, with the same menu and logo. Other’s are telling me that restaurant was ‘Ronnie’s’?

      • Anonymous

        I don’t know. I was too young and had never been to Orlando.

      • Charley

        No, that deli was Ronnie’s, but it was very similar in style and menu.

      • The restaurant in Orlando was Ronnie’s, located in the Colonial Plaza from 1956 to 1995. The owner, Larry Leckert originally worked at Wolfies in Miami. He later opened another restaurant Monte’s at the Winter Park Mall in Orlando (it was in a “stand alone” building in front of the mall) It is gone now too.

      • Barb Nahoumi

        I was just reading the latest issue of Reminisce Magazine, when I saw a picture of Wolfie’s Kid’s menu, from Cocoa Beach, on page 58. The menu featured a photo of an Astronaut on the cover.

      • Anonymous

        My dad said they fed the astronauts everyday.

  18. Anonymous

    I WAS HEAD BUSBOY AT WOLFIES RESTURANT1959 &1960 MR SLONE AND MR GEE MR SOKLOVE WAS MANAGERS AT THAT TIME. GREAT PLACE TO WORK ROY GILBERT 249 HARRISON STREET PONTIAC MI 48341

    • All:
      Great info and material and thank you. Recommend three great books on Miami Beach, with pics of Wolfie’s, both stores as well as many other great and long gone M. B. restaurants and club: MIAMI BEACH in Arcadia’s Images of America Series; SUNSHINE, STONE CRABS & CHEESECAKE, published by The History Press, and L’CHAIM: THE HISTORY OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF GREATER MIAMI, with a whole chapter on restaurants and clubs. Available at http://www.sethbramsonbooks.com or on amazon.com, just put Seth Bramson on the search line and all 22 books on South Florida local and Florida transportation history will come up.

  19. Anonymous

    My grandfather Milton Sloane owned the Wolfies in St. Petersburg. Do you have any information about that location?

    • The St. Petersburg Wolfie’s was opened in 1953 by Meyer Yedlin who sold it two years later to Frank Van Straelen and Joseph Sloane, your grandfather’s brother. Joseph sold it to three hotel men in 1957, but apparently your grandfather was still there because a newspaper story in 1966 says he is the manager. It changed hands again in 1966 and 1967, and after that I’m not sure what happened to it.

      • robert zlatkiss

        My dad bought it in 1971 and then in 1973 the red tide and the air-conditioned mall Tyrone Square killed the downtown area of St Pete. Too bad — it was one heck of a restaurant.

      • Oh do I remember the RED Tide…was worse than the Palm Blight in MB and smellier than a hurricane.

  20. buzz

    I would occasionally in the mid 70’s sit at the counter on Saturday mornings for breakfast. I did see Meyer Lansky and a bunch of other old Jewish men sitting at the big round table. None of them looked very threatening, just old, weak men, but probably all were bad boys back in the day. Also, I took a woman I had spent the night partying with to Sunday breakfast near her home in North Miami Beach, to the Wolfie’s there, as this was her Sunday morning regular place. A couple of football player size attendants rolled a man in a wheelchair to the roped off tables in the back. My lady friend told me that the guy in the chair was Meyer’s son, the one mentioned in this article. I recall that at the 21st St. counter, my breakfast came with a basket of fresh mini bagels and cream cheese, free of charge. Both places, 21st St and North Miami Beach, were always crowded.

  21. Anonymous

    my mother, jewell meiners was a waitress at wolfies lincoln road from 1950 till closing in the 1980’s she was able to make a good living raising me alone and i am grateful to her for that. i miss the corned beef , pastrami, and cheese cake. i wish they had a restaurant like that in gainesville,fl thanks for the memories linda

    • Janis

      Your Mother and my Aunt, Thelma Rae Forrest (later Mackay) would have worked together at Wolfies, as they worked there during the same time. She was also a waitress and often spoke of the many nice customers who would come to Florida for the winters and ask for her station, as they had come to know her over the years.

    • Love this story, great memories of Wolfies and Rascal from my youth, sadly they’re all gone now :(

    • Kellye hoffman

      I probably knew her. My family were owners in 70’s. She probably knew Rosie!

      • Anonymous

        I knew Rosie! She squeezed the fresh orange juice every morning! I worked on 21st St in 1973 when I just moved down from NY. I loved it!
        I remember it was owned by 3 sisters & their husbands. I think the son’s name was Lowell???

      • Barbara

        I knew Rosie she worked as a waitress when I worked there! She loved to eat roast-beef and raw onion on rye bread!!! We weren’t allowed to eat roast-beef so we had to sneak it!!! I worked at Wolfies in the late 70’s and early 80’s! Phlylis and Marina (the Cuban lady who sold jewelry on the side) were waitresses there, and Billy was the head-waitress at that time! There are so few of us left! Used to wait on Meyer Lansky, He sat by himself and his bodyguard driver waited outside! He ate bagel and cream-cheese and coffee for breakfast! Would leave 2 to 5 dollars as a tip! People would stop at his table to say hello, but they never sat down to chat! He was soft spoken and nice! I also waited on the Dundy brothers from boxing, Red Buttons and many more famous people! They all liked to sit at the three tables in the section up against the wall looking towards the front! where It was always so packed with people! The best onion rolls ever were baked in the bakery upstairs!! Mr Lazman and Mr Crouse were the owners at that time! Later on I went on to work at Rascal House for Wolfie Cohen!

      • Love your memories, especially the detail of guests sitting against the wall to watch who was entering.

  22. Joanna

    I was told that my great grandfather was an investor in Wolfie’s, and was related to one of the owners, Sam Schwartz. Do you have any information about the owners?

    • Sam Schwartz and Meyer Yedlin, both former cafeteria owners, took a 15-year lease on property on the NE corner of Lincoln Road and Collins Ave in 1949 to build a Wolfie’s. Of course there may have been other owners that I’m not aware of.

  23. Paula

    I worked there as a waitress in 1966, midnight shift, a very naive 18 year old girl from Canada. What a experience. The manager was very good to me …
    Paula

    • Janis Erd,am

      Paula,

      Did you know my aunt, Thelma Forrest? She married quite a few times, so may have gone by another last name, but she waitressed at Wolfies for decades. She had a son, Pete, who became a police officer. I’m trying so hard to track my family down. I only met my aunt Thelma twice. She was a pistol! She had red hair and she said people would come in and ask for her as their waitress. If you get this message, please contact me. hdirwin@aol.com

  24. I just want to suggest that if you have a restaurant to get your roof checked. I just had some major leakage issues and had to have a lot of work done because I didn’t have it checked earlier.

  25. My grandfather owned Joe’s Broadway on Washington Avenue and 14th Street in Miami Beach from circa 1934 to 1951. It was a restaurant similar to Wolfie’s in menu. According to my mother, business went down when larger restaurants like Wolfie’s opened closer to the newer hotels further north.

    I’d love to know if you have any info on Grandpa’s restaurant. Enjoying your blog immensely.

    • Joe’s Broadway was opened by Joe and Dora Perlman sometime after they married in 1931. In 1932 Joe was the manager at the Rosedale Sandwich Shop in Miami. The following year he ran Joe’s Luncheonette. It’s possible that he didn’t move to the 1417 Washington location until 1935 when a directory listed the business as Joe’s Bar and Sandwich Shop. An image from around then shows a Depression Modern front. The couple also had a business called Little River Cut Rate Liquor Store. I believe Dora acted as hostess at the restaurant and that at their peak they entertained celebrities such as Clark Gable. An advertising slogan was “Where Everybody Meets.” In the 1940s their place was referred to as a Delicatessen Restaurant and in 1948 they ran an advertisement for a “Full Course Passover Dinner Including Wine.” At that time they were open seven days a week from 9 AM until 2 AM, having cut back from their old 24/7 schedule. Like other Miami “sandwich shops,” their menu included dishes such as Stuffed Cabbage, Corned Beef and Cabbage, and Gefilte Fish (but also Fried Shrimp).

      • That’s Great! Thanks…

        Joe’s Luncheonette — which was in Miami, on Biscayne Boulevard & 11th street — was opened sometime around late 1929 or 1930. With the repeal of prohibition, they converted it into a bar, and eventually began selling package liquors. They expanded into the liquor stores shortly thereafter. (Among their customers was the caretaker of Al Capone’s house on Star Island).

        Shortly after they sold the bar, and opened on the beach (circa 1934). They were initially in a smaller spot on Washington Avenue, and then moved two doors down into the spot where they were for the rest of the time.

      • Herb

        Hi-I’m another grandson (“4 corners” is my brother). I’d be interested in knowing some of your sources for the information about our grandparents, if you’re willing to share it. I can tell some might be from Googling various newspapers, but I never before heard about the Little River Cut Rate Liquor Store, for example. I’m interested in researching this history further, so any info or hints are appreciated — Thanks

  26. Steve

    I grew up in Miami Beach from the 1930s to the mid 50s, when Lincoln Road was still a thoroughfare for cars. What I remember most about Wolfie’s was the incredible cheese Danish!

    • Anonymous

      My dad saved for several years to take my mom, brother and myself to Miami. We stayed at the Normandy Hotel, where I fell and broke my wrist. But my dad remembered the cheese danish at Wolfies for 50 years afterwards. He would always grin and chuckle when he thought of that time. How sad it’s gone.

    • abc

      Do you remember Rosedale’s delicatessen?

  27. Awesome Post!

    There was even a Wolfy’s in Chicago – although I’m not sure it was the off-spring of the original because it’s spelled differently… But it was the site of a notorious incident involving my best friend’s dad who, after many years of hard work, rising from the poor side of town, celebrated the culmination of a life-long dream by becoming the proud owner of a Cadillac.

    After picking up the car from the dealership he drove directly to Wolfies celebrate with a pair of ketchup-free hot dog and fries with his son. They no sooner placed their order, when their hour-old pride and joy was sideswiped by a larger, black Caddy driven by a fat man smoking a cigar. Who tried to drive off. My friend’s twelve year old brother ran after the guy and they got him to stop.

    The next week the dream car was traded in for a station wagon. They never bought another fancy status car again…. http://www.wolfyshotdogs.com/

    The place is still there for those who enjoy tube steak!

  28. Anonymous

    In Margaret Salinger’s biography of her famous father, J.D. Salinger she recalls their visits to the Wolfie’s in Fort Lauderdale when she and her siblings were still kids and how special it was to get a “Shirley Temple” while the grown-ups got real cocktails. I’m not sure if the Wolfie’s on Collins in Miami Beach served cocktails, but the one in Lauderdale definitely did.

    • Anonymous

      I was a waitress at Ft Lauderdale in 1974 – they had a bar & lounge & served coctails -I made a lot of money as a 19 year old girl back then – they were some great times!!!!

  29. Craig

    Recently, I watched that new Starz series “Magic City”, and Wolfie’s makes an appearance; not only can you briefly see an image of it in the opening credits (which I’m fairly certain is the same photograph used above), but a character mentions it by name in the season finale when he brings food from there.

    Only today did I decide to do some research on this apparently famous restaurant, and that’s how I found your site! Looking forward to looking through it more!

  30. Martha B. Suarez

    I could never forget Wolfie’s. Every summer my parents would rent at the same hotel in Collins Avenue, ‘South Seas Hotel’. Our favorite & special restaurant was Wolfie’s because of it’s amazing cheesecakes. As an adult I visited Wolfie’s to discover that their Macaroons were the best ever. Also, one of the things that brought me back to memory in reference to this historical restaurant was one year ago when my mother passed of Pancreatic Cancer. I began to cry so hard as my memory took me to my childhood days when we would rent at Miami Beach, & visit Wolfie’s I really miss the historical Wolfie’s, as well as those memorable days at Miami Beach.

  31. David Pender

    There was a Wolfie’s in Lake Worth too. It was near the North end of Dixie Hwy. Some friends and I were there as part of an all-nighter before I went into the Navy the next day – Sept., 1963. There was another table full of people we knew there and we joined up with them. One of them was going into the Navy the next day too. We wound up in the same company. Fun times. Wolfie’s had monstrous ice cream sundaes I didn’t notice being mentioned above.

  32. Mark Burgh

    As a child, I spent many a summer breakfast at Wolfie’s or Pumperniks, but when I returned to Miami in 1999, I discovered to my dismay that they were gone. I was heartbroken. I remember the amazing onion rolls.

    • You know when it comes to recipes I’ve been told that Epicure’s food in Miami is as good if not better … possibly some of the ingredients in the food that you used to eat there had ingredients you would not want to use now (chicken fat??) just saying…. would love to hear stories of how it looked and how it was ….try Epicure on Miami Beach for new versions of old favorites.

    • Cherry Tumino

      Yes, i went to Wolfies every summer from age 5(1961) to about age 10 when we spent 2 weeks at the Traymore Hotel. It was not known as South Beach then. I went back with my kids in 2004 and it was all boarded up. We had to go to the new Wolfies in North Miami. Not the same.

    • Janice

      I have a menu from Wolfie’s! A sandwich was $1.75! Anyone want to purchase this, let me know! jassie44@hotmail.com

  33. Karen Londer

    Could someone tell me the receipe for Wolfie’s French Toast? Best I ever had. Can’t find any thing close.

  34. Julie

    Thanks for this write-up. I kept wondering what this Wolfies was that the Golden Girls kept referring to!

    • Anonymous

      Yes I was wondering the VERY SAME THING. I LOVE the GG and always hear them referring to Wolfies, so I GOOGLE Wolfies, Miami, and here is where I landed. Born & Raised in NY, sounds like Delis I grew up with?!

  35. Great site… looking for menus or pics from old Kosher or Jewish Style Restaurant/Delis in the Miami area for a historical piece and surfed in..you have a great blog.

  36. Joe

    Where did you find that first picture of the outside of Wolfies? I’d love to find more information on the photographer..

  37. meowomon

    Can anyone tell me the recipe for the chicken liver and onions at Wolfies in Miami? The absolute best I’ve ever had in my entire life.

  38. terri

    Could you please give me the stuffed cabbage recipe from Wolfie Cohen Rascals house?

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