Tag Archives: Wolfie’s

Top posts in 2020

It’s been a year! Bad for restaurants but good for restaurant history. I’m disturbed by the number of restaurants that became history this year and the many that are barely hanging on. It’s great that my blog has fared well but I’d rather see good fortunes shared.

The top post was a controversial one: Aunt Fanny’s Cabin. I focused on its troubled relation to race, which many readers disputed, arguing that the Black staff loved working there. Others ignored the post’s theme and just commented on the restaurant’s fried chicken.

The second most popular post was about Wolfie’s, in Miami. Since I published this post in March of 2011, it has consistently drawn large numbers of readers, becoming the all-time #1 post about an individual restaurant.

Other starring restaurants that drew many readers were (in this order): Schrafft’s, The Bakery, The Bird Cage, Miss Hulling’s Cafeteria, Toddle House, The Pyramid, and The Silver Grille. Note that two were in department stores: the Bird Cage in the newly-closed Lord & Taylor, and the Silver Grille in Higbee’s.

The number three post was Taste of a decade: 1970s restaurants. That was the decade in which many small chef-owned restaurants came along, introducing more adventurous menus and moving away from the post-war favorites, steak and baked (potatoes).

Most surprising to me was the number of clicks on Sawdust on the Floor, a post not focused on an individual restaurant, so not a fan page. This made me happy because I actually prefer researching and writing posts on trends and characteristics of restaurants.

Another surprise in 2020 was the increased number of appreciative comments — and especially emails — that I received from readers who took the time to write. Despite the contentiousness and divisiveness on display this year, I am also struck by how many people have gone out of their way to be kind and thoughtful.

Finally, I’m remembering what a friend said to me when I began this blog in 2008: Won’t you run out of things to write about? No, my list of ideas is longer than ever.

Meanwhile, wishing you all the best for 2021!

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2013, a recap

recapWolfie'sMBI think of the past twelve months as the year of Wolfie’s.

Although it was two years ago that I wrote Famous in its day: Wolfie’s, about a former Florida coffee shop, 2013 was the year when the post broke records, becoming my top post devoted to an individual restaurant. It also became the all-time most popular post on a single restaurant since I began blogging in 2008. I’d love to think it was my sparkling writing that made Wolfie’s so hot, but I suspect it was due to interest stirred up by two seasons of the TV show Magic City about mobsters in 1960s Miami.

As for other single-restaurant posts, Miss Hulling’s, published in January 2012, came in second. It was followed by Schrafft’s, John R. Thompson, and Pig ’n’ Whistle.

My Recipes page actually topped Wolfie’s by a thousand or so, demonstrating that day and night there are legions of recipe hunters searching for their favorite bygone restaurant dishes. I fear they are usually disappointed. Through the generosity of a friend I just obtained Miss Hulling’s cook book. No split layer cakes, but I can do Country Gravy or Miss Ethel’s Scalloped Potatoes.

The Prices page was another click magnet. Yes, it’s true that in 1964 Howard Johnson’s ran a special on one-plate turkey dinners for $1.49.

Other notables

Evergreen posts: The Decades stayed strong, in this order: 1920s, 1960s, 1950s.

recap1970sRuth'sHickoryMtnRestaurantMy biggest achievement: Finally completing the decade of the 1970s, which takes the 20th century right up to 1980. I expect it will eventually move into second place among the Decades.

“Fastest out of the gate”: B.McD, which was the fastest to accumulate page views, maybe because of great images.

recapWoolworth67cheeseburgerPerennially most popular post not about an individual restaurant: You want cheese with that? Alas, it is sadly lacking in “likes” maybe because that feature didn’t exist when it came out in 2009. Once no likes, always no likes?

recapShambarger'sDMy personal favorites of 2013: Writers’ favorites never quite seem to mesh with readers’ favorites. Mine were Greek-American restaurants and Restaurant as fun house: Shambarger’s.

Most deserving 2013 post that didn’t click with readers: Charge it! Boo hoo. Was it because it has no color pictures, or because it came out in summer?

Coming up: There are many posts on the drawing board and quite a few already moving down the production line for 2014. I’m determined to tackle fearsomely big topics such as oysters, and Chinese and Mexican restaurants. And then there are lunch wagons, smorgasbords, celebrity restaurants, tableside preparation, restaurants at world’s fairs, and . . . (fill in the blank). Any requests?

Thanks for reading and best wishes for happy restaurant-ing through 2014,signature168

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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

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