Compiled by Deb Mandel, 2022
1919 – present
1334 Cambridge St., 1935-
1919- 1932- 1298 Cambridge St.,
1932- 1935- 1307 Cambridge St.
1334 Cambridge St. Inman Square
In the decade preceding Cambridge Electric Light Company’s illumination of Cambridge Street, and when trolley tracks ran from here to Porter Square, a little delicatessen began welcoming hungry patrons during the 1918 flu pandemic. Rebecca “Ma” Edelstein greeted guests with “es and es,” Yiddish for eat and eat, a phrase which lent the restaurant its name. The restaurant has remained in the family for six generations, and what an endearing enterprise it has been. Today the S & S is run by Gary Mitchell and his sister Amy Baum, along with their loyal staff.
In 1924, Rebecca’s daughter Lottie and her brother Barney, managers of S and S’s store, began to manufacture their delicatessen specialties, such as fish cakes and potato salad, for other retailers. In 1926, Lottie married William Wheeler and he joined the business. Lottie later bought her brother out.
In 1935 the S & S moved from 1307 Cambridge St. with a big celebration to its present location, where one found “home-like meals, friendly service and modest prices.” The S & S created jobs for at least ten people during the depression; many of the early workers were Eastern Europeans immigrants from Inman Square–Jews, Poles and Germans. Diversity of the staff evolved as new residents moved nearby from many cultures the world over. Many of S & S’s current staff have been with the restaurant since the 1970s and 80s. It is everyone’s home away from home.
Though they were known as a deli, the S & S didn’t strive to be a Jewish deli, like Jack and Marion’s in Brookline, yet they always carried staples such as knishes, blintzes, bagels, matzo ball soup, bagels and lox, sour pickles, white fish and other popular Jewish foods. At the same time their menus reflected the tastes of the immediate community, whether it be chicken pot pie, pot roast, or the freshest seafood for those observing “fish on Friday.” Over the years S & S added more vegetarian options and other popular foods. Portions have always been large and prices reasonable.
In 1936, one could buy a cup of coffee and a slice of apple pie for 15 cents. When interviewed for the book, “From the Heart of Cambridge: A Neighborhood Portrait,” current owner Gary Mitchell said. “Ma made six meals out of chicken–roast chicken, chicken soup, chicken pot pie, chicken croquette, chicken salad sandwich and a la king.” These were the comfort foods that people ate in S & S in those days along with baked macaroni, the most popular dish. Comfort food is still what people come here for.
From the beginning, S & S restaurant was a neighborhood place and attracted regulars who sat at the counter stools–some workers came there every day for lunch–first all men, and then gradually women, as they joined the workforce in greater numbers. Before the days of television, the S & S bar was a popular meeting place, where a 15 cent Knickerbocker beer was quite popular. “We had one of the first Carrier air conditioners,” Lottie told Cambridge Chronicle reporter Jane Thurman in 1987, “People used to come in just to look at it.”
In 1956, S & S remodeled and celebrated with a June open house. “Nothing has been spared in providing particular persons with the finest in food and liquors,” an ad said. In 1957, S & S began to serve Schrafft’s locally made ice cream, which they served at its fountain and in take-out containers.
In the 1960s, Lottie retired from the business and her son, Robert, and daughter, Doris, took the reins. Doris married Chester Mitchell, whom she met in college. In March 1965 Passover foods were available with free delivery. In 1972 another S & S remodeling was undertaken.
A new mural on an exterior wall, which depicts the restaurant’s history of family members and workers, includes the archway of the old Inman Theatre, a landmark which was located next door for decades. Today it is the location of the East Cambridge Savings Bank.
In the 1980’s, Doris and Chester’s son, Gary, who began working at the deli counter at age 12, began to manage the S & S’s business in the 80’s, after completing restaurant management coursework at Cornell University,
In 1983, the S & S underwent a larger renovation. Architects Prellwitz & Chilinski designed the sleek look of the Honduran mahogany storefront. To make room for a budding catering business, they changed the interior by removing the counter stools. Doris Mitchell said it was “painful” when the counter stools were ripped out. The counter was “the focal point for many singles and older people,” she said, “and it was never the same.”
Today the restaurant is a spacious 10,000 square feet with booths, large tables for families and special functions, and a separate bar area, with seating for 300.
In the 1990s, Aimee Baum began assisting her mother with the catering and takeout business. Over the years, S & S has catered to Monday Cambridge City Hall Council meeting, to Cambridge Rindge & Latin High School and many Cambridge functions and charity events.
In 1993, S & S partners purchased the 212 Hampshire St. Inman Square jazz club Ryles from local club entrepreneur Jack Reilly. The jazz club was relaunched with a new restaurant called Mitch’s Traditional BBQ, which sold a wide range of American favorites, such as BBQ Baby Back Ribs Sampler, Fried Gulf Shrimp for $8.95 and BBQ Texas Brisket for $12.95. Ryles was host to many parties, private functions and events. In 2018, Gary Mitchell closed Ryles and sold that building in 2019.
On the occasion of their 75th anniversary in October 1994, the S & S planned a series of events. For a week, they handed out mini birthday cakes to customers and announced a scholarship fund for CRLS students interested in culinary arts. They buried a time capsule on S&S land including S&S memorabilia and artwork by children at the Longfellow School, Doris’ alma mater.
In November 2019, S&S regulars, staff, and members of the Mitchell-Wheeler families gathered under a heated tent to celebrate the family’s business’s centennial and unearth the 25-year-old capsule.
As reported by Erin Kuschner from Boston.com, “From within the capsule — a clear, triangular prism with bits of dirt still clinging to its sides — Gary and Aimee pulled out a S&S menu from 1994 and asked the audience to take a stab at the retro prices. “Who can guess what a price of coffee was in 1994?” they shouted. ($1.10.) “How much was a chicken Caesar salad?” ($7.95.) “Here’s one for all the kids: How much was a quarter-pound cheeseburger?” ($2.85.)
Members of the Mitchell-Wheeler families culled through the capsule to retrieve mementos they had contributed: t-shirts, letters, cassette tapes, newspapers, and coins. Some of the items were stored in a plastic bag from the now-defunct Blockbuster Video.”
They read aloud some letters that were written by a six-grade class from the Kennedy-Longfellow School in Cambridge. 92-year-old Doris then read the letter she and her husband Chester wrote. Chester passed away in May 2018.
“For so many years, it was our pleasure [to run the S&S],” she said, thanking the staff and customers who contributed to the restaurant’s success and longevity. “We never said that we didn’t like a day of what we were doing. I surely won’t be here another 100 years. My mother always said, ‘God bless the S&S,’ so I’m going to say that for her.” Doris passed away in 2021.
During the pandemic, Aimee and Gary worked non-stop to keep S & S afloat–it was just themselves for a while, staying open more limited hours to provide take out services. Gradually, a few outdoor tables were added during warmer months and more staff returned as indoor dining increased.
One not only goes to S &S to get a bagel, a New England fish dinner or a Reuben sandwich. It is like visiting a local history museum- Gary and Aimee are passionate tour guides. Their walls are graced with beautifully hand-colored enlargements of historic photographs of the family and the neighborhood, old menus, and articles about the restaurants. They tell a story of bygone days of the restaurant and its beloved Inman Square, where traffic around the complex intersection of Cambridge and Hampshire Streets was directed by a city employee.
Though many of the Inman Square eateries have come and gone, S & S still remains an essential neighborhood anchor, a place to see familiar friendly faces, celebrate the home team and to spice up the day with a tasty nosh.
Lovejoy, Paula, editor. From the Heart of Cambridge: A Neighborhood Portrait. Cambridge, MA, The Longfellow Neighborhood Council and Community School, 2011 For interviews with Doris Wheeler Mitchell and her son Gary Mitchell, see p. 25-31
“Barney and Lottie Proprietors of S & S Food Shop, Enlarge.” The Cambridge Tribune, 16 February 1924, p.11. (advertisement)
Carter, Rob. “Hell of a Run:’ Ryles Jazz Club to Close After 40 years.” The Cambridge Chronicle 15 March 2018, p.1.
“DIsplaying Their Talents in the Art of Making Fish Cakes are Marvin Gatherwright and Jack Rose, Chefs at the Newly Decorated S & S Restaurant & Delicatessen.” The Cambridge Chronicle, 7 April 1960, p 13. (photo with caption)
Farmelant, Scott. “Ryles Ready for Return to Glory?” The Cambridge Chronicle, 1 July 1993, p.11.
Miller, Amy. “75 Years in Inman Square Ma’s Deli Now a City Landmark.” The Cambridge Chronicle, 6 October 1994, p.1
“Prosperity Coming to Inman Sq.” The Cambridge Sentinel, 5 September 1936, p.5.
“S. & S. Restaurant and Delicatessen.” The Cambridge Chronicle, 17 February 1983, p.49.
“S & S Restaurant Gets Congratulations on 50th.” The Cambridge Chronicle, 26 February 1970, p.6.
“S & S Restaurant Reopening Day.” The Cambridge Chronicle, 31 May 1956, P.4.
“S. and S. Restaurant Now In 42nd Successful Year.” The Cambridge Chronicle, 23 February 1961, p.14. (with photos)
Thurman, Jane. “Yesterday and Today: Inman Square Stands at the Crossroads. of History.” The Cambridge Chronicle, 13 August 1987, p.1.
Jennings, Lisa. “S&S Restaurant Looks Back at a Century of ‘What Works’.” Restaurant Hospitality, 20 November 2019. Last accessed 27 May 2022.
Kuschner, Erin. “25 Years Ago, S&S Restaurant in Cambridge Buried a Time Capsule. On Saturday, the Owners Dug it Up.” Boston.com. 17 November 2019. Last Accessed 27 May 2022.