A Tribute to Alex Kornblau

by Florence Rodman Klevit

This is an abridged version of the original Tribute to Alex Kornblau sent to all the descendants of Yitzchak Kornblau, Alex's father on July 25, 2003. . Yitzchak Kornblau’s descendants are referred to, in this narrative, as "the Cousins".

Many Philadelphians will recall spending carefree vacation days in Atlantic City before the advent of casinos. They may also recall Kornblau’s Restaurant, a well known landmark on the corner of Virginia and Pacific Avenues. But they probably know little about Alex Kornblau, the founder of that popular restaurant

Alex was born in 1894 in a small shtetl called Yanov, which was then a part of Austria.

Alex was the son of Yitzchak Kornblau. Most of the Cousins did not have the pleasure of knowing their grandfather Yitzchak. He never left the shtetl, except for one visit to the USA in 1930, and died in Yanov in the mid-1930’s.

Yitzchak’s five brothers all immigrated to the United States. They left the shtetl to escape discrimination, pogroms and poverty. The brothers Alex, Benny, Jack and Harry Kornblau, our great uncles, arrived in the early 1900’s. Great Uncle Joseph Kornblau (Fetter Yusha) arrived in 1923 with his wife and daughter, Marion.

Our great Uncles Benny, Jack and Harry Kornblau settled in Atlantic City and became successful in resort business. A source of great pride to Harry was his daughter, Lee, whose husband, Joseph Altman, was a popular Mayor of Atlantic City in the 1940’s and 50’s.

Great Uncle Joseph settled in Brooklyn, and Great Uncle Alex settled in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

Now back to our Uncle Alex, the restaurateur. During World War I, he served in the Austrian army. He was captured by the Russians in 1916 and sent to a prisoner of war camp in Siberia. Upon his release from the camp he found his way to Japan and then to Seattle, where he arrived in 1921.

Alex’s younger sisters, Pepi and Rose, had immigrated to the United States the year before and were living in New York.

Alex’s younger brother, Morris, immigrated in 1923.

The immigration of the four Kornblau siblings (Alex, Pepi, Rose and Morris) was made possible by their Uncles Benny, Jack and Harry Kornblau.

Fast forward to 1925. After Alex had acquired diversified experience working in various restaurants in New York and Atlantic City, he opened several of his own restaurants. These restaurants required top management, and so brother, Morris, became a Kornblau partner. Soon thereafter Max Kornblau, a first cousin (son of Alex of Wilkes-Barre) also became a partner.

Of the several restaurants that Alex opened, the one on Virginia and Pacific Avenues became the most popular. On a typical summer evening vacationers would stand in a long line outside the restaurant waiting to be seated. Typically restaurants “sizzle” and then “fizzle” – but not so with Kornblau’s Restaurant on Virginia Avenue which remained popular until its closing in the late 1960’s.

While working in New York, Alex met and, in 1925, married Bertha Winkler. They were married for 40 years and had no children.

In February 1938, shortly before the start of World War II, Alex was able to save from the impending Holocaust, and raise as his daughter, his 14 year old niece, Reggie, the daughter of his older brother, Shalom, who was still living in Yanov.

In 1945-46 Alex’s sisters, Pepi Rodman and Rose Bienstock, and brother, Morris, who were then all in their 40’s, each became widowed within a period of eight months. Alex then became a virtual father figure to their children, the Cousins:

Florence Bienstock (Klinger)
Joseph Bienstock,
Evelyn Bienstock (Agre)
Theodore Rodman
Florence Rodman (Klevit),
Morton Rodman
Leona Kornblau (Tanker)
Irwin Kornblau.

They will never forget how their lives were touched by Uncle Alex’s constant care and concern, and how he was always there for them and for their widowed parent as well.

The Cousins grew up in pre-casino Atlantic City and all graduated from Atlantic City High School. In fact, from the early 1940’s and into the 1950’s almost every year there was a high school graduation to celebrate.

After the war our family learned that we had only one surviving member from the shtetl. And so, Uncle Alex, with the help of brother Morris, and sisters Pepi and Rose, immediately filed the required papers for the immigration of Joe Kornblau, the older brother of Reggie. He had somehow miraculously managed to survive the war living first in Russia and then Germany and arrived in Atlantic City in the summer of 1947 with his wife, Regina, and their two young children, Lucy and Jack. The first cousin number then grew to 10.

Joe’s education in a gymnasium in Tarnopol had been interrupted by World War II, and so Uncle Alex provided an opportunity for him to learn the fundamentals of the restaurant business. After a short time he opened his own restaurant, called Joe’s, at the corner of New York and Pacific Avenues, only a few blocks from Kornblau’s Restaurant. Joe’s Restaurant quickly became a popular center city restaurant.

For some time during the 1940’s and 50’s the Cousins lived either next door to Kornblau’s Restaurant or within a radius of two blocks. And most of us had the valuable experience of working in the restaurant during summer vacations from school.

Our jobs included cashier, host/hostess, bookkeeper assistant, food checker, salad maker, and any other positions where needed. For many of us this was our first job, and it gave us the opportunity to get to know Uncles Alex and Morris as CEO’s dealing with a myriad of difficult ongoing problems. These included dealing with serious labor and food shortages during the war years, complying with strict liquor control regulations, working long gruelling hours, and the many other rigors and challenges of the restaurant business. And we also got to know our uncles as warm, genial hosts to the summer visitors and especially to the all year round residents.

During the off season months, when the pace was less hectic, we recall Uncle Alex and Aunt Pepi, relaxing in the sun on the Rodman porch adjacent to the restaurant, and reminiscing about growing up in Yanov. They often spoke about good times with childhood friends, their limited secular education, which did not even include public high school, and eventually their decisions to leave beloved family and shtetl. They also recalled their stormy voyages across the ocean, and their early days as immigrants.

The Cousins have fond memories of family get-togethers growing up in Atlantic City. We recall Seders in the home of Aunt Bertha and Uncle Alex, and we remember observing High Holidays together in the Community Synagogue, a half block from the restaurant at Maryland and Pacific Avenues. Alex was a founder of the synagogue and a long time active member and officer. The restaurant was closed on Rosh Hashanah, and after services there was always a family Kiddush which Uncle Alex and Aunt Bertha hosted in their apartment. There were also many outings and get togethers which Uncle Alex hosted, such as picnics at Lake Lenape, Hanukah parties at which we were given silver dollars as Hanukah gelt, annual visits to the Atlantic City Race Track, and much more.

In 1955 “Resort Profile” article titled Refugee to Restaurateur appeared in the Atlantic City Press on the occasion of Alex being honored as the “Man of the Year” by the Brotherhood of Community Synagogue. It describes the four years he spent in Siberia as a prisoner of the Russians during and after World War I and highlights colorful events in his notable career as a restaurateur.

In 1964 Uncle Alex was honored on his 70th birthday with a dinner at the Seaside Hotel for 54 members of the family and numerous friends. (see photo below). The dinner also marked his 39 years as the operator of the popular restaurant.

During all those years Uncle Alex and Aunt Bertha lived in a duplex apartment around the corner from the restaurant. When he became semi-retired, they moved to a home in Margate. A car then became a necessity. In his late sixties, and after a few minor auto accidents, Alex proudly met the challenge of learning to drive. He was pleased with that accomplishment, and the family was very proud.

Uncle Alex died at the age of 72 after a brief illness.

From a Yizkor Book story which was written after the war by one of the survivors of Yanov then living in Israel, we learn of the hardships of every day life in the shtetl Yanov in the early twentieth century. And so we can appreciate all the more that from the humblest of beginnings Alex Kornblau rose to become not only the very successful founder and operator of Kornblau’s Restaurant, a world renown dining institution for more than 40 years, but also a highly respected community leader and philanthropist. He will always be lovingly remembered by our family.

As we celebrate cousin Reggie’s 80th birthday in a few weeks, the most touching tribute to Uncle Alex is Reggie’s. She frequently reminds us that she will be forever grateful to him for rescuing her from the shtetl just before the Holocaust so that she did not have to suffer the fate of most of her immediate family.


After this Tribute was circulated among the Cousins many of them recalled special memories.

Our youngest cousin, Irv Kornblau, now living in Florida, e-mailed two anecdotes about the fame of Kornblau’s Restaurant: “In the late sixties I was checking onto a flight at the San Francisco airport, and when I handed the agent my ticket (there were tickets way back then), he asked me if I was from Atlantic City. When I said “yes”, the next question was inevitable: ‘Are you related…?’ ”

Irv adds: “On another occasion the same thing happened when I used a car rental service to take my son Mark and my stepdaughter Jackie to a ball game when they were about 9 or 10 years old. The driver asked if I knew the restaurant in Atlantic City, and when I said "yes"…you have no idea how impressed Mark was. It inspired him to write a biography of my Dad [Uncle Morris] for school!”

Cousin Ted Rodman, while attending college and medical school, spent several summer vacations working in the restaurant. Ted remembers Uncle Alex not only as a generous contributor to worthwhile causes, but also as a community activist and enthusiastic fund raiser. Ted recalls being impressed as he observed Uncle Alex soliciting a pledge for the Federation of Jewish Charities from Joe Wagenheim, his main meat supplier who was also a good friend. Uncle Alex “urged” his friend to increase his contribution by reminding him that Kornblau’s had done thousands of dollars worth of business with him the previous year, and he “suggested” that his friend could surely afford to at least double his contribution (see photo below).

Ted also reminds us about the “Kornblau Special.” How can we ever forget that tantalizing combination of corn beef, coleslaw and Russian dressing on rye bread which Uncle Alex originated early on in his career and which has been widely copied in our area and even beyond. In fact, this favorite remains popular in countless better delicatessens to this day.

Cousin Reggie Kornblau Korngut remembers dining in the Stage Door Deli in New York in the early sixties, and when she ordered a “Kornblau Special” they knew it well, and served a perfect copy. She also remembers that in the early sixties the Atlantic City Hospital cafeteria had as a standard item on its cafeteria blackboard menu the “Kornblau Special.” Most of us remember that in the 1940’s the price of a “Kornblau Special” was about 35 cents¬, an unbelievable price today.

Reggie still treasures a 1943 Kornblau’s dinner menu showing a price of $1.00 for a full course braised brisket of beef dinner, including dessert.
Reggie remembers that during World War II, when the purchase of war bonds was a high priority, Uncle Alex honored every purchaser of a $500 bond with a free lobster or steak dinner (see photos below).

Cousin Florence Rodman Klevit reminds us that in the 1940’s and early 50’s in the heart of Atlantic City’s business district (Pacific Avenue between Virginia and Kentucky Avenues) a distance of only seven blocks, the following seven businesses were owned and operated by the sons and daughters of three of the senior Kornblau brothers, namely, Yitzchak of shtetl Yanov, Joseph (Fetter Yusha) who settled in Brooklyn, and Alex who settled in Wilkes-Barre:

Kornblau’s Restaurant (Virginia Avenue) – Alex, Morris and Max Kornblau

Bienstock’s Restaurant (South Carolina Avenue) – Rose Kornblau Bienstock

Liquor Store (South Carolina Avenue) – Millie Kornblau Green

Abe’s Restaurant and Bar (Tennessee Avenue) – Anna Kornblau Helrich

Joe’s Restaurant (New York Avenue) – Joe Kornblau

Burg’s Liquor Store (Kentucky Avenue) – Charlotte Kornblau Burg

Dave’s Produce Market (Kentucky Avenue) – Pepi Kornblau Rodman

This listing would not be complete without mentioning that during the 1940’s Atlantic City’s very popular mayor was Joseph Altman who was the husband of Great Uncle Harry Kornblau’s daughter Lee Kornblau Altman.

In the 1970’s the Cousins organized a Kornblau Cousins Club which grew rapidly with the birth of grandchildren. It continued meeting regularly for many years, usually at the spacious home of Cousins Ted and Ruth Rodman. With the exception of two of the Cousins, who reside in Ventnor and Florida, we all live in the Philadelphia area (Ardmore, Cherry Hill, Jenkintown, and Mount Laurel).

Our Cousin total is now only seven due to the deaths of Joe Kornblau, Florence Bienstock (Klinger) and Joseph Bienstock.

Although admirers of the enormous success Uncle Alex achieved as a restaurateur, the Cousins, as first generation College educated, chose not to seek their fortunes in the restaurant industry and instead pursued careers in medicine, law, teaching, social work, the media, and business administration. With the exception of one still hard working cousin, we are all now retired.

Article and photo that appeared in the Atlantic City Press on the occasion of Alex Kornblau's 70th Birthday.  On the Photo, from left to right: Alex, Pepi and Morris Kornblau

Enlarged text of article that appeared in the Atlantic City Press on 7-19-64

Photo of Alex Kornblau and Joe Wagenheim

1943 Kornblau’s dinner menu

Reggie Kornblau selling War Bonds

Photo of Alex Kornblau wearing an apron serving a free meal to someone who purchased a $500 War bond.  A lighthearted and humorous gesture as he always wore a suit and tie at the restaurant.

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