The cops at the Sixth District police station in Cleveland considered me a hippie spy from the Heights. But when I told the cops I was a Seiger (“My uncle owned Seiger’s Restaurant on E.118th and Kinsman”), the cops warmed up to me. The cops — the older ones, the bosses — all knew Seiger’s Restaurant.
Seiger’s Restaurant was a Damon Runyon casting hall on Kinsman Road. All manner of hustlers, cops, businessmen and shnorers (beggars) hung out there. The shnorers were Orthodox Jewish tzedakah (charity) collectors who had their own booth in the back.
My Great Aunt Lil Seiger served the shnorers kosher food from her apartment, which was at the back of the store. The shnorers wouldn’t eat the non-kosher food from the restaurant. The deli was kosher-style, not kosher. “We served the rabonim [the rabbis] on special china and silverware, milchig [dairy]’,” Lil’s son Danny said.
Rabonim – and cops — ate well at Seiger’s. Nobody ever got a ticket for an expired parking meter, and sometimes cars were parked two-lanes deep on Kinsman. “I couldn’t even spend a nickel in Seiger’s,” retired cop Bill Tofant said.
Itchy Seiger, my great uncle, was the owner and chief kibitzer (glad-handler/talker). He had been a cloak maker in Galicia, Austria-Hungary. Itchy was the greeter. Aunt Lil did the cooking, except the breads and strudels, which she bought.
There was a party room, seating about 65, in the basement. The matchbooks read: “Seiger’s Restaurant, Delicatessen, Barroom and Rathskeller.”
I didn’t go to Seiger’s Restaurant often. My parents didn’t think Kinsman was the right direction for a Sunday drive. More often we wound up out east — the other direction — at the Metroparks.
Danny — my cousin – started showing up at Yiddishe Cup gigs in the 2000s. I asked him about the mini-feud between his father (my Uncle Itchy) and my grandmother, Anna Soltzberg (nee Seiger). Itchy and Anna had been half-siblings. (Enough with the genealogy, Klezmer Guy!) Danny said Itchy and Anna had had two things in common: sugar diabetes and iron wills.
My grandmother’s candy store — near Itchy’s deli on Kinsman — had frequently been “oyf tsoris” (badly off), and Itchy rescued it, Danny said.
“Everybody loved Itchy,” Danny said. Everybody but my grandmother, who complained about Itchy’s buy-out terms on her store. Later, my grandmother opened a candy store further east on Kinsman, near Shaker Heights.
“At the restaurant, there were two brothers, the Schoolers,” Danny said. “One, Joe, wanted a soft matzo ball. The other, Morty, wanted a matzo ball as hard as a baseball. Ma made both kinds. That’s how we thrived.”
Somebody should take Danny, age 80, and a video camera for a stroll down Kinsman. Walk Danny through the old neighborhood and into Seiger’s, which was recently a soul food restaurant. (Today it’s boarded up.)
Danny: “This is where Ma made the mish-mash soup. She gave the recipe to Corky & Lenny’s. This is the counter where Jim Brown bounced a $10 check. I should have saved it for the autograph. This is where Oscar Schmaltz downed an industrial canister of soup. Oscar weighed 400.”
Footnote: Seiger’s is pronounced Sigh-ger’s (rhymes with High-gers) by Jews, and See-ger’s by cops. Seiger’s closed in 1968.
For relatives only . . . family photo above, taken at the shiva for Toby Stratton’s mother, Anna Soltzberg.
On floor, from L: Bert Stratton, sister Leslie
Middle: Aunt Lil Soltzberg of Washington; unnamed woman who divorced out of the family; Aunt Pearl Bregman; Great Aunt Molly Mittman; Audrey Seiger.
Top: Uncle Milty Soltzberg, Toby Stratton, Julia Stratton, Uncle Sol Soltzberg, Great Uncle Sam Mittman, Aunt Lil Soltzberg of Delaware, Great Uncle Itchy Seiger, Danny Seiger.
(Sol Soltzberg, Milty Soltzberg, Pearl Bregman and Toby Stratton were siblings.)