Babins Kosher Restaurant
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Volume #1, Issue #4, July, 1969

Haupt's & Babin's Kosher Restaurants
A Los Angeles Odyssey

1911 -

by Marc L. Raphael


Located at Second and Hill Streets, Los Angeles. Louis Haupt, is shown
at the right; Max Babin, is second from the right; Esther, fourth from
the right.

--Photo courtesy of Marc L. Raphael

THERE ARE STILL HUNDREDS of Los Angeles residents who can recall Babin's Kosher Restaurants which operated in the decade and one-half prior to the Depression. In 1915, about 350 to 400 persons ate lunch each weekday at the Babin's Hill Street restaurant. Twenty-five cents would buy a complete lunch and a mug of beer. In 1927, the Babin's Spring Street restaurant and dance hall fed and entertained 500 to 600 persons daily, and the "special" lunch was now forty-five cents. The proprietors of these restaurants were my grandparents, Max and Esther Babin, and the following is their story during the years they were in the restaurant business. Although relying heavily on extant documents, this article owes most to Esther, who continues to entertain many with stories of the family restaurants.

Esther Ecker was born in Pittsburgh in 1890, and when her mother died in December, 1903, her father was unable to care for her and his five other children. Esther's aunt and uncle, Lena and Louis Haupt, invited her to live with them in January, 1904. The Haupts were to raise and provide for Esther during the next ten years, and are remembered by her even today as "grandma and grandpa."

In 1910, Lena and Louis Haupt temporarily placed Esther in a Pittsburgh orphanage and came to Southern California in an attempt to relieve Louis' chronic asthma. 1 Sometime in 1911, they found their way to 411 Centennial, in the largely Jewish Temple Street area just west of Figueroa Street. They opened a restaurant at 931 Temple Street, with Lena doing the cooking and Louis, although ill, the managing. It was a kosher restaurant, well located, and one of the five or six in Los Angeles.

By 1912 the Haupts had moved two miles north of Temple Street to 1524 Husted, and then to 2007 Echo Park Avenue in an area then called Edendale. 2 They simultaneously opened a restaurant at Second and Hill Streets in order to serve more effectively the expanding downtown business community.

Lena's letters to Pittburgh during 1911 had convinced her niece to come to Los Angeles. She sold her earrings for enough money to purchase a ticket and left Pittsburgh on December 26, 1911.

Esther's first home in Los Angeles was on Husted Street, where she lived with Lena and Louis Haupt. Her earliest recollection of a Haupt restaurant was their second one at Second and Hill Streets. 3 Serving as head-waiter at the Hill Street restaurant was Max Babin, a twenty-six-year-old immigrant from Odessa, Russia. He had fled from Russia during the po­groms of the early 1900's and immigrated into Canada. About 1911 he came to Los Angeles and was hired by the Haupts.

Max, according to Esther, competed with the cook for her affections, but by the middle of 1913 Max was the victorious suitor. On September 7, 1913, Esther was married to Max Babin at Sinai Temple. 4 In October Louis opened a new restaurant on Broadway, and when his failing health prevented him from managing it, Max and Esther took over. Although the Haupts remained the owners, by 1915 the restaurant was listed as Babin's.

Despite the very small Hungarian and not much larger German population in Los Angeles, 5 Babin's German-Hungarian Kosher restaurant had some success. Various factors seem to have assured this: (a) the vast majority of the Jews in Los Angeles at this time were recent arrivals from Europe; 6 (b) kosher restaurants of quality were not plentiful in these years; 7 (c) the restaurant had an excellent location in the heart of the downtown business district, very close to the center of the German-Jewish population and within two or three miles of virtually every Jew in Los Angeles; (d) Esther, who soon became the chief cook, was skilled in Hungarian cuisine.

At the end of 1914, Esther and Max moved to their home in Boyle Heights and then soon moved downtown, in 1915, less than one mile from their restaurant. 8 By 1918, Max and Esther had saved enough money to open their own restaurant on Spring Street, but they continued to manage the Haupt restaurant on Broadway for six months after they opened their own.

An even better location was soon found for their restaurant, and it was moved to larger quarters at 316 South Spring Street. Max and Esther now began a catering service which specialized in weddings and parties and which operated from the new restaurant, while Lena opened a boarding house and Hungarian restaurant on Alvarado Street in 1920. Lena joined Max and Esther whenever they catered for Sinai Temple, and was an active congregant as well as caterer.


External facade of the restaurant. then located at 316 South Spring Street,
Los Angeles.

-- Photo courtesy of Los Angeles County Museum

Early in 1920, Max was naturalized, and though his citi­zenship had changed, his habit of frequent moving had not. Again he found a better location and moved his restaurant to 829 Hill Street. Knowing that Hamburger's Department Store was being sold to the May Company and would shortly open across the street, he invested a large sum to obtain the entire second floor of a building for the restaurant. Newspaper ads describe this "Kosher-style Cafe" as catering to the dinner crowd as well as businessmen's lunches.

Despite the excellent location, by June, 1922, the Hill Street restaurant was losing money and was offered for sale. The reasons for this collapse are not clear. A logical guess would consider two factors : the rapid rise in the early 1920's of a large variety of restaurants in the downtown area, and the slow but steady movement of the Jewish population westward and eastward. 9 A less reasoned guess would attribute the collapse of the restaurant to the reason Esther gives: a few months before June she was told not to do the cooking anymore, but to stay at home with her two children!

The loss of their restaurant forced Max and Esther to sell their home and they rented a house in the expanding area of West Adams.10 This house, at 1673 West Boulevard, rented for $27.50 a month.

By the end of 1922, Max had realized enough money from the sale of his previous restaurant to open another on Spring Street. This one had none of the luxuriousness of the Hill Street establishment, and doubled as a dance hall. 11 Max did so well that he decided to move to a larger location at 431-1/2 South Spring Street, a block away. There, in 1927, he established the Claremont Dancing Academy along with a restau­rant.

Max had paid a large sum to establish the Spring Street restaurant in November, 1922. On November 7, 1922, he purchased $4,000 worth of equipment and it was paid off completely within one year. On December 18, 1922, he purchased $800 more in supplies. This was to be paid off at the rate of $200 down and $50 monthly. His lease called for $200 down and $400 monthly rent for five years. It seems obvious that the Babins realized a substantial amount of money from. the sale of their old restaurant and from operating their new venture, even though the new dance floor was not sub-leased until late in 1923. 12

As the fateful year of 1929 neared, both the Babins and Haupts were doing well. Lena had moved to within one block of Sinai Temple's new location (Fourth and New Hampshire Streets) in 1926 and continued to cater for the Temple while opening another boarding house. Max and Esther moved their family to 317 Berendo, very close to Sinai Temple. By 1928, Max was able to sell his downtown restaurant for a respectable sum and he opened a Hungarian Kosher-Style restaurant at 729 South Vermont Avenue, within walking distance of his home.

This new restaurant was hardly open a half year when on Saturday night, June 30, 1928, Max came home with the week's receipts, feeling ill. He was taken to a hospital and never came home again. He died on July 7 of pneumonia at the age of forty-two. Esther, a widow at the age of thirty-eight, was left with two children, "Bud" 13 twelve, and "Sis" 14 eleven. If the preceding fifteen years had belonged to Max, the next ten, the Depression years, were to be Esther's.


1. "They came from every State in the Union.. . and Canada, believing that the high altitude and dessicating atmosphere of the Southwest will restore full vigor to their wasting vital forces." John E. Baur, THE HEALTH SEEKERS OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, 1870-1900," (San Marino, 1959), p. 250.

2. Edendale was part of the Elysian Park — Echo Park -- Temple Street area of Los Angeles, and the area's Jewish population grew steadily from 1905 to 1926. Dr. Fred Massarik, "The Rise and Fall of Jewish Communities in Los Angeles," address given to the Southern California Jewish Historical Society, May 12, 1967.

3. There is extant a photograph of the interior of the restaurant taken in 1912. Lew Zuckerman, founder and owner of the Sally Shops, remembers having lunch at the restaurant regularly. He described Lena as a "great cook."

4. Sinai Temple was founded in October, 1906, and incorporated in December, 1908. In 1909 the congregation purchased land at the northwest corner of Twelfth and Valencia Streets and by September of the same year the new synagogue was dedicated. Dr. Rudolph Farber, the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in 1913, officiated at the wedding. He was born in Austria in 1862. Martin A. Meyer, WESTERN JEWERY (Emanu-El, San Francisco), 1916, and THE AMERICAN JEWISH YEAR Boos 5665 (Philadelphia, 1904), p. 216.

5. In 1910 there were 9,683 foreign born Germans and 819 foreign born Hun­garians in Los Angeles. In 1920 there were only 10,563 Germans and 1,706 Hungarians. United States Census Reports for 1910 and 1920.

6. Eugene Bender, sociologist and researcher, County of Los Angeles.

7. Esther claims that Babin's was the first. The first kosher restaurant in Los Angeles was probably that operated by H. M. Cohen, who announced in the Los Angeles Star, August 2, 1862, p. 2, c. 5, that "... he will open a butcher shop adjoining his restaurant, where he will serve his customers with the best Kosher meat." There can be little doubt that his restaurant served kosher food.

8. The Jewish population in Boyle Heights grew in density from 1908, peaked in 1914, and remained on a plateau until about 1925 when it began to grow again, peaking in 1936-1937 with about 15,000 or 30% of the Los Angeles Jewish families living there in 1937. In 1914, when Max and Esther moved there, 17% of the Los Angeles Jewish households were in Boyle Heights. Massarik, op. cit.

9. As the downtown area became more and more commercial and a center for government agencies, the residential population decreased. From 1900 to 1910, the greatest proportion of Los Angeles Jewish families lived in the downtown area. In 1902, 39% of the Jewish families were downtown, in 1908, 16%, in 1914, 11%, and in 1926, 2%. Massarik, op. cit.

10. Ten synagogues were built or relocated in the West Adams area from 1922 to 1935. In 1920 only 1% of Los Angeles Jewish households were located in West Adams, but from 1930 to 1945, the area grew rapidly in Jewish population. Massarik, op. cit.

11. On November 1, 1923, the restaurant became the Pastime Dancing Academy, and permission to use it as a dance hall and soft drink parlor was granted by the City of Los Angeles. Los Angeles City Archives.

12. A contract dated December 1, 1923, shows Max Babin leasing to Frank Gardner, Andrew Bruhn and L. C. Dodelon the front part of the main room (68' by 29') and three rooms at the southeast corner of the second floor as a dance hall. The contract was to run from December 1, 1923, to February 28, 1927. The total rental was $19,500, to be paid at the rate of $1,000 down and $500 a month.

13. Mr. Irwin Babin, now a resident of North Hollywood, California.

14. Mrs. Joel Raphael, nee Florence Babin, the mother of the writer, now a resident of Northridge, California.

A Western States Jewish History Finding

The Ethical Will of Mrs. Samuel Weill
Oxnard, California

Go through life shedding all the kindness and happiness you can; it will repay you in mental satisfaction alone. We were put on earth to be helpful to others and there are always many who need help, in various ways, who have no one to turn to; those who are worthy and yet have had the misfortune to be left alone.

Be careful in choosing your friends and associates, rather brains and breeding, than riches. Be kind and courteous to all, but judge those care-fully whom you want as intimates.

Above all I want you to have faith and strength. Many hard problems will come up in your life and the faith you have will give you strength to carry on, when you most need it. Each day brings changes and one is never sure of anything, not even ourselves. But there are certain standards that never change, and it will be well to remember them.

Never forget your prayer of thankfulness for all your blessings and for America. We are going through a terrific struggle with the world so torn with war and strife and injustice, it makes us wonder how it could ever happen.

Life is sweet and we have so much to be thankful for, but we often take too much for granted. Think over each day and resolve to make each tomorrow a little better.

— Mrs. Samuel Weill, nee Palmyre Levy, daughter of Achille Levy,
founder of the Bank of A. Levy, Oxnard, California.
Written August 31, 1942, for her daughters, Mrs. Adele Cunningham and Mrs. Jeanne Jones.