Submitted by Olivia Brown
Smoked Salmon, Corned Beef, Kosher Dills: An Introduction to the Food and Tradition of Rivkin’s Grocery & Delicatessen
Jacob Rivkin and his wife, Tama, arrived in Columbia, South Carolina in 1906 with three children in tow—Raphael, Sarah and Caba. As Russian immigrants, Jacob and Tama came to the United States for the same reasons as many others: to escape persecution and to embrace opportunity. By 1912, the Rivkins had a fourth child, Lewis, and Jacob had started his own business. Rivkin’s Grocery opened at 1012 Lady Street, with the family living in an apartment built above the store. They served the surrounding community—a diverse mixture of Jews, immigrants of other faiths and African Americans.
Jacob Rivkin took out his first advertisement in Columbia’s The State newspaper in 1921; it showed prices for fresh country eggs, flour, and sugar, and boasted, “We make a specialty of chickens. Give us a try and be convinced.” People were convinced, and by 1926, Rivkin’s Grocery was operating at three locations, each run by one of Jacob’s three sons: the original Lady Street location by Caba, a new location on Gates (Park) Street by Lewis, and a third location on Calhoun Street by Raphael. Jacob’s ability to sustain three groceries around Columbia, and to put them in the hands of his children, proved that economic sustainability was both achievable and sustainable.
A 1929 advertisement for Rivkin’s lists imported foods that were favored by central and eastern European Jewish immigrants and have sincebecome associated with Jewish food culture. An advertisement from 1932 goes one step further, and explicitly advertises “Kosher Imported Delicatessens.” By importing kosher food, Rivkin’s was providing a very specific service to the Jewish community designed to draw in Jewish clientele with promises of food products reminiscent of the old country that would meet their dietary requirements.
Treyf food did not make an appearance in Rivkin’s advertisements until Caba opened a deli location in Five Points in 1939. In a full-page advertisement for the grand opening, however, potential customers learned that in addition to kashrut favorites, they could now have southern favorites as well. At Rivkin’s, a Jewish customer could order smoked whitefish on rye with a dill pickle, while his non-Jewish neighbor could select a barbecue ham sandwich with a cold Budweiser on the side.
When Jacob ran the family business there was more emphasis on serving the Jewish community and adhering to traditional foods that followed the rules of kashrut. His son, Caba’s, status as a second-generation immigrant instead allowed him to balance the cultures of the old with the new. By 1948, both locations of Rivkin’s Delicatessen had been sold to Harold “Groucho” Miller, who would grow his business into a southern deli franchise that continues into the present with 32 locations spanning both North and South Carolina. The legacy of the Southern Jewish deli lives on, even if Rivkin’s does not.
1. “Columbia City Directories” (Columbia, SC, 1888 1927), vol. 1910, Richland Library Historical Collections; “Columbia City Directories,” vol. 1917.
2. “Advertisement, Rivkin’s Grocery,” State, September 2, 1921; “Advertisement, Rivkin’s Grocery,” State, July 31, 1926. The Gates (Park) Street location of Rivkin’s Grocery sits only one block from Baker’s Grocery in Columbia’s Ward One neighborhood.
3. “Advertisement, Rivkin’s Delicatessen,” State, December 7, 1929; “Advertisement, Rivkin’s Delicatessen,” State, January 17, 1932.
4. “Advertisement, Rivkin’s Delicatessen,” State, February 16, 1939.
Olivia Brown is a graduate student in Public History at the University of South Carolina. She can be reached at Instagram: @_oliviabrown, Twitter: @_ombrown
Rivkin Wedding 1920: Members of the Rivkin family wedding party, posed for an unidentified photographer in 1920. Front row, L to R: Lewis Rivkin (1907 - 2002), his father, Jacob (1876 - 1962), and grandfather Avram (1853 - 1920); bride Rachel Winter (1902 - 1984). Back row, L to R: Tamara Rivkin (1874 - 1938) and daughter, Sarah (1910 - 1994); Caba Earle Rivkin, flanked by twins, Bessie (1893 - 1971) and Celia (1893 - 1978); groom, Raphael Rivkin (1899 - 1987). The entire family immigrated from Russia more than a decade earlier, with the exception of Lewis, who was born in the United States after the family's arrival in 1907. Image courtesy of Special Collections, College of Charleston
Rivkin’s 1921: Advertisement for Jacob Rivkin’s Grocery, DATE. Reprinted from The State, September 2, 1921
Rivkin’s ad 1929: By 1929, Rivkin’s was advertising its “Kosher Imported Delicatessens.” Reprinted from The State, December 7, 1929
Rivkin’s ad 1932: Rivkin’s second deli opened at 619 Harden Street in 1932. In 1941, Harold “Groucho” Miller purchased the deli, and it became the first Groucho’s Deli location in Five Points. Reprinted from The State, January 17, 1932
Rivkin Family: Members of the Rivkin family, including Caba and his wife, Katie Roth Rivkin (second from left), pose in front of Rivkin’s Grocery & Deli on Lady Street, circa 1935. This location was also sold to Harold “Groucho” Miller. Image courtesy of Special Collections, College of Charleston
Rivkin store exterior: Marquee sign for Rivkin’s Delicatessen, 619 Harden Street. Image courtesy of Special Collections, College of Charleston
Rivkin store interior: Caba Rivkin photographed inside Rivkin’s Deli, 619 Harden Street, sometime in the 1930s. Image courtesy of Special Collections, College of Charleston