Many Washingtonians’ have early memories of Hofberg’s and a time when a corned-beef sandwich cost 35 cents and hot dogs just a quarter.
Shepherd Elementary and Beth Sholom Sunday School students visited the delicatessen, located on the District line, after classes were over. When these young patrons became teenagers, they returned to Hofberg’s, a great date place where all enjoyed the famous sandwiches, hot dogs, and pickles.
Some 40 years before opening his restaurant on Eastern Avenue, Abe Hofberg was born in Argentina, where his Eastern European parents had lived since they were children. Dora and Solomon Hofberg brought their family to Washington in the early 1920s. Abe and his siblings attended Roosevelt High School while their parents, like so many Jewish immigrants, ran a grocery store at 20th & E Streets NW.
When Abe launched his first deli at 116 Kennedy Street, NW in 1928, the family lived four blocks away at 710 Longfellow Street, NW. His parents opened the doors every day at 6 a.m., and took over the counter while Abe served his country during World War II.
Shortly after Abe’s return home, he sold the business on Kennedy Street, but quickly picked up where he had left off. In 1948, he opened a new Hofberg’s where Eastern, Alaska and Georgia Avenues meet on the border between Washington and Silver Spring. The sandwich shop became an popular hang-out for area teens to grab a heaping sandwich and a dish of ice cream.
Over the years, Hofberg’s added catering service, room service for a neighborhood motel and The Penthouse, a dining room upstairs from the delicatessen. A 1957 advertisement for the Penthouse’s grand opening boasted the establishment would be “America’s most lavish and hospitable kosher restaurant outside of New York.”
When the ownership changed in 1969, Hofberg’s spread into Montgomery County, but the suburban locations were never as popular as their D.C. predecessors. Ten years after Abe Hofberg retired, the Eastern Avenue deli was praised in The Washington Post: “In the case of Hofberg’s…everybody comes out a winner.”
Regretfully, after decades of serving as a meet-and-eat spot, the shop closed in the early 1980s, followed by the Maryland locations in the next few decades. While Hofberg’s is now part of Washington’s history, many native Washingtonians fondly remember its renowned deli fare.
Do you have material documenting a local deli or restaurant that you’d like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society’s collection? Please contact us at [email protected] or (202) 789-0900.
This year, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, in conjunction with the Jewish Food Experience, is featuring DC’s rich Jewish food history as its Objects of the Month. For information on DC’s Jewish history–including programs, exhibitions and publications–visit jhsgw.org.
Top photo: Inside Hofberg’s on Kennedy Street (l to r) unknown woman, Louis Belkov, Joe Adler, Abe Hofberg (in uniform), Louis Maizel, unknown man, 1943. JHSGW Collections. Gift of Ann Hofberg Richards.