Submitted by Katharine Allen and Ron Port
Born in White Russia, he learned his trade while serving in the British merchant marine[s] and by working as a baker’s assistant in Austria, Hungary, and Germany. As a result of his skill and wide experience, his bread and rolls have a highly prized continental flavor which gourmets associate with the best of European cooking. – “Pumpernickel Specialist,” The State, October 3, 1954
Sam Zusman, a native of Russia, arrived in Columbia in 1921 at the behest of merchant Barnett Berry, proprietor of B. Berry’s on Assembly Street. According to Zusman’s daughter, Jane Zusman Eneman, Berry and Zusman met in Birmingham, Alabama, where Zusman was managing a local bakery. At the time, Columbia did not have a Jewish baker, and Berry felt that Zusman would be perfect for the job. A few months later Zusman arrived in town with his new wife, Pauline.
Sam Zusman (left), stands in front of The Columbia Bakery with Mr. Perry, early 1920s. Note the sign in the window: “Bread is your best food. Eat more of it.” Image courtesy of Ron Port, Seymour Port, and Henry Emerson
He opened his new business, The Columbia Bakery, at 1914 ½ Main Street and established himself as the only baker with a brick oven (as opposed to gas). Advertisements in the 1920s and 1930s touted his specialties: rye and pumpernickel breads, initially sold only at the Main Street storefront and the Assembly Street market. By 1936, the bakery’s goods were also available at Rivkin’s Delicatessen and at 1330 Assembly Street, where Zusman briefly opened a second branch.
Advertisement for Columbia Bakery, Columbia Record, April 5, 1933.
Advertisement for Columbia Bakery, The State, February 2, 1946.
Zusman’s special breads made from recipes designed for allergy sufferers and diabetics were also popular; he shipped them around the Southeast and supplied multiple Columbia-era hospitals. For decades, The Columbia Bakery was the most popular among the Jewish merchants on Main and Assembly streets (it counted both the Louries and the Gergels as regular customers) and also counted among its customers members of the Greek, Syrian, and Italian communities. Most people coming downtown stopped into The Columbia Bakery to purchase their breads, rolls, cookies, cakes, and to have conversations within the wonderful aroma of fresh baked goods.
Pauline and Sam Zusman had three children while living in Columbia: Ansel Zusman, Celia Zusman Port, and Jane Zusman Eneman. Celia’s husband, George A. Port, joined the business after their marriage and took over as owner following Sam Zusman’s death in 1957. The business remained a family affair until 1963, when lightning struck an electricity pole right outside the bakery, traveled into the bakery to the fuse box, and then caught the bakery on fire. Ron Port, eldest son of George and Celia, shared his memories of that day:
We were having dinner at home before Dad went back to close up and received a call that the bakery was on fire. Dad immediately left and we saw the fire on the local news that night. When Dad got back home much later that night, he told us what had happened.
And that was the end of The Columbia Bakery. But there are still people who remember Sam Zusman and his bakery, and memories don’t end.
George Port poses with his son, Ron Port, employee Louise Huthmacher, and an unknown young woman, 1957. Note the prices in the showcase! Image courtesy of The State Photograph Archive, Richland Library
George Port chats with an unidentified woman at The Columbia Bakery. Employee Louise Huthmacher is depicted in the foreground wrapping up a few cinnamon buns. Image courtesy of The State Photograph Archive, Richland Library
Bakers Odell Cody (left) and Andrew Green sliding bread into the brick oven. Cody, known to the Ports as ‘Higgins’, was a family friend. Ron Port recalls Green letting him hold the long wooden paddles to take bread out of the oven. Image courtesy of The State Photograph Archive, Richland Library
According to Sam Zusman’s grandson, Ron Port, the bakery’s famous recipes were kept in a little notebook behind the counter that was lost when the bakery burned in 1963. This month, instead of sharing a pumpernickel or rye recipe, we invite our readers to send Kugels & Collards photographs of their own handwritten bread recipes, which we’ll share in a follow up post.