Seymour Tabatchnick of Basking Ridge, who brought Jewish deli-style cooking into American homes through a nationally distributed brand of frozen kosher soups, died Sept. 11 at age 91.
Born in Newark, Tabatchnick was a World War II veteran of the U.S. Army Signal Corps when he returned home to learn the smoked fish business at his family’s appetizer store, which was owned by his father, Joseph. Joseph had inherited the business from Seymour’s grandparents, Louis and Sarah, who started it in 1905.
Seymour would go on to open 12 delicatessens, three deli restaurants, a manufacturing plant for meat provisions, and a frozen soup factory, with some 24 varieties of soup, including New York Style Chicken Broth and Barley & Mushroom. Although all the delis have closed (Tabatchnick’s Smoke House made way for a Staples at the Millburn Mall in Union in 2009), his founding of the Tabatchnick soup business in 1972 remains his lasting legacy.
“I’m not aware of any [other] frozen soup in the supermarket,” said Tabatchnick’s daughter-in-law Rita, noting that he came up with the concept as a way to naturally maintain the freshness of vegetables without using preservatives. While soup giants like Campbell’s eventually followed suit in selling frozen soup in pouches, his family also credits Tabatchnick for inventing kippered salmon spread, whitefish spread, and the famous Jewish-style delicacies, Smoky Joes (triple-decker sandwiches made of smoked fish) and Sloppy Joes (the triple-decker rye bread sandwich made up of layers of sliced deli meat, coleslaw, and Russian dressing, not the “loose-meat” variety).
Health issues were also important to Tabatchnick, who suffered a heart attack in his 40s, Rita said. His frozen macaroni and cheese, for example, is made with skim milk.
“The world has changed so much since the days when he smoked fish,” said Rita, who with her husband Ben now owns the business. “It’s really a lost art.”
Tabatchnick’s work ethic was steadfast. “He worked to the day he died,” Rita said. “He always was working on some project.”
Creative and enterprising, he loved to explore his interests and ideas, many of which were way ahead of his time, family members said. “He thought out of the box,” said Rita. Twenty years ago, she said, he predicted supermarket home food delivery and the arrival of club stores, “superstores that will have everything.”
“He really was a visionary” who had his hand on the “pulse of what was going to be,” Rita said.
Rita Tabatchnick said her father-in-law was also involved with the founding of the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, the Chabad-Lubavitch seminary. “He just loved education,” she said.
“He worked hard for the community,” said Rabbi Mendy Herson of Chabad Jewish Center of Basking Ridge, noting that Tabatchnick was an early supporter of the RCA and had been an honorary trustee in addition to being a synagogue member. “He was a giving person; he was a friend,” said Herson of Tabatchnick, whose funeral he officiated at.
At his father’s funeral, Ben Tabatchnick quoted Seymour as saying, “I never look at my feet; if you look at your feet you could stumble. I look at the mountain in the distance and put one foot in front of the other till I reach the mountain.”
Seymour Tabatchnick is survived by his wife, Isabel; four sons and their wives, Justin and Norma of Pollack Pines, Calif., Ben and Rita of Randolph, Larry (whose wife, Debbie, is deceased) of Fayetteville, NC, and Joe and Lin of Millburn; a sister, Beatrice Seagull of New Paltz, NY; 12 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Services were held Sept. 13 with arrangements by Menorah Chapels at Millburn, Union.