In Cincinnati, there was no sadder day for generations of German-American sandwich eaters, when Rubel’s Baking Company went out of business. It’s famous brand, Rubel’s Heidelberg Rye Bread, had reached regional fame as the best rye bread, second to none. Many generations of Cincinnatians sandwiched their braunschweiger, their stinky limburger cheese and onions, or their reuben sandwiches with Rubel’s rye bread. It probably even accompanied some creamed herring or matjes as toast points on a ‘German relish tray’. And we have founder and Russian-Jewish immigrant Elias F. Rubel to thank for this legacy. Elias founded the Rubel Baking Company in Cincinnati in 1882. Originally at 570-574 West Sixth Street, the company grew with his five sons who all worked with him at the bakery.
Three of Rubel’s sons Ben, Max, and Sam, took over the business and were responsible for construction of the new Beaux Arts factory built in 1930 at the corner of Melish and Bathgate in Cincinnati’s wealthy Jewish Avondale neighborhood. When its construction was announced the factory was called one of the largest baking plants in the United States. After completion of the factory and its large industrial ovens were installed, the company had a large open house on Tuesday July 22, 1930, from 10 AM to 10 PM. They offered free bus service to the plant from Fountain Square, music, refreshments, and souvenirs to all who visited.
In the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Rubel company extended its open house invitation:
“America’s most wonderful plant throws wide its doors and bids you enter and marvel at the magic of modern industrial achievement… at the tremendous results brought about by faithful allegiance to an unswervinjg ideal of quality in serving the many, many thousands of Rubel patrons, and expresses its unbounded gratitude to the people whose loyal patronage has turned our dream into a reality.”
And truly, the company had spent a lot of money on the latest automated bread making equipment, and would continue to innovate. In 1940 the U.S. Patent office would grant Patent # 219352A to Bertrand Rubel for a bakery machine that automated the sizing and preparation of loaves, especially rye, for the oven. Many hundreds of Cincinnati school children were paraded through the plant on class field trips, and many still remember the smell of the fresh bread baking in the ovens that wafted out of the factory on their way to work.
Rubel’s was most famous for the Heidelberg Rye Bread, which was the first sliced, cellophane wrapped bread in Cincinnati when it was introduced in 1933. But they also manufactured Milk Bread, Vienna Bread (with poppyseed), Kimmel Rye, Pumpernickel, Whole Wheat, Rolls, and Pastries. The bread would come with cornflakes at the bottom for ease in transport over the conveyor belts and packaging equipment. But to many, that made it seem even more handmade and became a signature of the brand.
The Rubels also knew how to market their brand well. They had a great presence in print advertising in the local newspapers with cartoons, and ads. Their slogan “Hearth Baked on Stone” was synonymous with their Rubel brand. In the 1940s, they even sponsored a radio show called “Fans in the Stands” hosted pregame at the Red’s Crosley Field and hosted by Dick Bray. Bray would interview both kids and adults, and everyone interviewed would get a photo and a coupon for a free loaf of Rubel’s Bread. There was even a catchy jingle that could be heard on radio and TV:
Cincinnati is a rye bread town, Here’s the reason why I found
The reason is Rubel’s. It’s baked on stone
Brought straight from the hearth to you at home,
And that’s the reason the bread we buy
Is Rubel’s Heidelberg Rye!
The company remained in business until March of 1978, nearly 100 years, when Pennington Breads, on Sherman Avenue in Norwood, Ohio, bought the formulas and trade names for Rubel’s breads. Walter Rubel, grandson of the founder, company president, was the last member of the family participating in the company’s operation. It was Walter’s wish that someday his daughter Barb would work in the family business and he could pass it along. Struck with polio in the 1948/49 epidemic, through therapy and great determination, Barb learned to walk again after being consigned to an iron lung and a ‘never walk again’ diagnosis. Her father thought that her struggle was the marking for a great company president, but she chose a career as a clinical psychologist instead, thus closing the chapter on a three generation family owned company.
Pennington Breads went out of business by the mid 1980s and Klosterman Baking Company took over some of their brands, but apparently not the Rubel’s line. No other rye bread comes close to Rubel’s according to anyone who grew up eating the bread. Supposedly Price Hill Chili still has Rubel’s rye bread made for them from another bakery for their Reuben Sandwich, but the brand is defunct and only a wonderful memory to generations of Cincinnatians.