Sam Brummer was best known as the owner of Hobby’s Deli in Newark, a popular haven for locals when Newark still had a thriving Jewish community, and when delis were fixtures in every Jewish neighborhood.
But he was also a decorated veteran who fought on Omaha Beach on D-Day. When he died Nov. 15 at age 93, the Caldwell resident was remembered in both roles, and for sticking it out in Newark when other businesses closed up shop or left for the suburbs.
Sam Brummer arrived in the United States in 1939, at the age of 16 from Poland, just a few months ahead of Hitler’s invasion. Three years later, he was drafted into the army.
His first combat mission was on D-Day, June 6, 1944, as a gunner with the 115th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division. After the landing on Omaha Beach, he helped liberate the town of Saint-Lo and the port of Brest.
Although he rarely spoke about his military experiences, he did give an interview, published on the Save the Deli blog, designed to publicize the 2014 documentary film Deli Man, in which he and Hobby’s are featured. When the troops landed in Normandy, he recalled, “to stay in the water meant we were dead men. To survive, we had to get to the path on the beach that led up the cliffs. When we reached the beach, we had to get out of the truck and, while dodging enemy fire, move countless bodies out of our way in order to reach that path.”
He was awarded a Bronze Star in 2006 and was appointed a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor of the French Republic, France’s equivalent to the United States Medal of Honor, in 2009.
After the war, he found work in the deli business, first in Lakewood, at the Clifton Deli. From there, he worked at Kartzmann’s in Newark, followed by a stint in New York at the Globe Deli. In 1962, he bought Hobby’s Delicatessen and Restaurant on Branford Street in Newark. He expanded the menu, upgraded the meat, and renovated the restaurant.
Following Newark’s 1967 riots, many of the businesses that hadn’t already drifted to the suburbs made a hasty exit or closed their doors. Brummer stayed put and kept the business going, even as the city cycled through crisis and a halting revival.
In 1988, his two sons, Michael and Marc, bought out their father’s partner and joined the business. Sam never stopped showing up at the deli to work. “Even in the last months, he would still come in once or twice a week with my mother,” Marc told NJJN a few days after his father’s funeral. “He’d watch what was going on behind the counter and say, ‘There’s too much meat in that sandwich,’ and he’d watch the floor and say, ‘Why is that customer not being taken care of?’ When I was younger, it was harder to take. Now, it’s something I’ll miss.”
He said the family has been “overwhelmed” by the “hundreds” of notes, texts, calls, and other expressions of sympathy and comfort from friends, family, and even longtime customers and employees, many of whom came to the funeral. These included people from every stratum of society. They even got a note from Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who, Marc said, was a regular when he worked in the area and was a resident of nearby West Caldwell.
Although the restaurant was closed Nov. 17 for the funeral, it was open the rest of the week. “The numbers of people ordering on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday after the funeral — it was like people were ordering in tribute to him,” said Marc. He believes it’s because Sam Brummer treated everyone like a friend.
“His rules of life were so simple,” said Marc. “Be a mensch. Treat people like a mensch.” And he recalled that his father never let anyone who was hungry leave the restaurant without eating, even those with no money.
In 2005, Marc and Michael started “Operation Salami Drop” in their father’s honor. The project has shipped over 25 tons of salami and mustard to American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sam Brummer was a longtime member of Temple Sholom in Cedar Grove, where he was a former Man of the Year.
He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Rona; his sons, Marc (Suzanne Klar) and Michael (Bonni); and three grandchildren.
Services were held Nov. 17 with arrangements by J.L. Apter Memorial Chapels of Cedar Grove. Memorial contributions may be made to the Wounded Warrior Project.