Who Invented the Reuben Sandwich

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It’s a hot sandwich that is about as close to culinary perfection as possible. Made of corned beef and Swiss cheese, a good Reuben also has 1000 Island dressing and fresh sauerkraut on it between two slices of rye bread, preferably the marbled type. You can heat the interior of the sandwich, toast it to melt the cheese, or put it together straight to enjoy.

Who invented the Reuben sandwich? There are a number of different possibilities to this sandwich’s origins. Let’s take a look.

Option #1: The Omaha Grocer

Reuben Kulakofsky was a grocer of Lithuanian decent and he had two primary passions: food and poker. Some believe that the invention of the sandwich was a group effort of the weekly poker game that was held in Omaha’s Blackstone Hotel for over 15 years. The group, who called themselves “The Committee,” put together the sandwich and placed it on the Hotel’s menu.

The story says the sandwich then made it nationwide when an employee of the Hotel won a national recipe contest. That’s thanks to Fern Snider, who was the chef of the Rose Bowl Restaurant in Omaha. She won the National Restaurant Association’s recipe contest in 1956 and obtained almost instant national fame for the sandwich.

Option #2: A New York City Delicatessen

Arnold Reuben was a NYC deli that was a mainstay of the city for a number of years. His deli, Reben’s Delicatessen, is still famous today even though went out of business. According to interviews, the sandwich in NYC was invented around 1914. An article in a theater magazine from 1926 discusses what is called a Reuben Special that seems to back up the claims that Arnold Reuben made about his sandwich.

A variation of this option comes to us thanks to Bernard Sobel. He claims that the sandwich from Reuben’s Delicatessen was actually from the mind of Broadway actress Marjorie Rambeau when she wanted a sandwich at the deli and the cupboards were mostly bare. The sandwich was thrown together and the rest, as they say, became history.

A third variation of this option says that the actress is actually Annette Seelos and that the original Reuben sandwich was actually what we’d call it today. There was no sauerkraut, no corned beef, and the sandwich wasn’t grilled.

Option #3: William Hammerly

George Leonard Herter adds to the controversy of the Reuben sandwich by saying that is was an amateur cook named William Hammerly that actually invented the sandwich. According to the story, Hammerly named the sandwich after Arnold Reuben because of all the great charitable work that was done in NYC by the man.

No one can verify with any accuracy who actually invented the real reuben sandwich. These are the two locations that are confirmed to have created early versions of the sandwich, but which one actually put it on a menu first and served it will probably never be known.

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