Customer Recollections of The Tavern's Coconut Cream Pie

by Nat Bodian


Among the many attributes that made The Tavern Restaurant in Newark's Weequahic section one of the most popular dining spots in Newark, during the decades from the 1930s to the 1960s, were its outstanding baked goods, and, in particular, the Tavern coconut cream pie1.

Almost invariably, when I discussed The Tavern on Elizabeth and Meeker Avenues with former patrons, they would bring up the subject of the Tavern coconut cream pie.

Ultimately, the demand for Tavern restaurant baked goods became so prevalent that proprietor Sam Teiger2 built the Tavern Pastry Shop next door in 1948, on the Meeker Avenue side of the building, to make the Tavern's delectable baked goodies available to a wider public.

Following are a selection of Tavern coconut cream pie anecdotes that give evidence of its wide popularity:

Five Tavern Coconut Cream Pie Anecdotes

  1. When a Newark businessman, living in the suburbs, brought home a Tavern coconut cream pie to his wife, who was an outstanding baker in her own right, she conceded that the Tavern pie was out of this world.

    The pie, in that era, was priced at $2.50. The businessman thought the price might seem a bit high, so he told his wife that it cost $1.50. At that price, she started soliciting pie orders from friends and relatives for her husband to bring home with him. After losing $1.00 on each pie, he confessed to his fib and dropped the pie deliveries.

  2. Anthony Wereta, recently discharged from World War II, was living in a barracks apartment with his wife and children in Weequahic Park in the late 1940s. One of his fondest recollections of living in that location in those years was the nearby availability of "the great coconut cream pies we got at the Tavern."

  3. New York City Mayor Ed Koch, a former Newark resident, wrote in his 1992 autobiography "Citizen Koch: that he was friendly at age 17 with Donald Fischer, whose father was a part owner of the Tavern, "one of the most popular Newark restaurants." "The Tavern," Koch recalled, "was famous for its coconut cream pie and even after 50 years, I still remember it as the best I've ever eaten."

  4. The Young Men's Hebrew Club, a thriving Newark social organization with several hundred members in the 1930s and 1940s still survives, but its membership is now down to a bare half dozen surviving members, all in their 80s and 90s.

    They gather every weekday afternoon after lunch for about two hours in the rented corner of a lounge at the Union YM-YWHA on Green Lane, where they sit around a card table and silently play cards. There is virtually no conversation.

    I interrupted their card game recently and told the seated players holding card hands that I was planning to write a reminiscence about the Tavern Restaurant. I asked if any of them had any Tavern Restaurant reminiscences to contribute.

    I got one response, A player looked up from his card hand, pondered momentarily, then turned his eyes heavenward, and murmured reflectively "Coconut Cream Pie."

  5. Bill Newman, formerly of Hawthorne Avenue, Newark, and now retired in Margate, Florida, has an almost unbelievable coconut cream pie memory.

    He was employed in 1958 with the "Two Guys" company, formerly known as "Two Guys From Harrison." The owner and his boss was Herb Hubschman.

    Once when Hubschman was attending a trade show in Chicago, he called his home office, asked for Newman, "and asked me to do him a big favor."

    "You don't say 'No' to your boss, so I asked him what the favor was."

    The 'favor' was to go to The Tavern restaurant and buy a large coconut cream pie. Then, I was to take it to Newark Airport, buy a ticket to Chicago, and personally go aboard the plane and put the pie in the designated seat.

    Newman continues: "I asked three times, 'You want me to what, Herb?' Not only did I have it right, but I was then to call someone at the Hilton Hotel in Chicago, give them the flight number information, and they would go to the airport to meet the plane and pick up the pie.

    "As soon as I hung up," Newman continues, "I knew I did not have enough money to carry out the favor.

    "I caught one of the company executives and explained my problem."

    "Two Guys, he told me, has a charge account at The Tavern, and between the executive, another employee, and myself, we assembled enough money to pay the fare."

    "Want to have some fun? Go to an airline desk at Newark Airport and tell them you want a one-way ticket to Chicago for a coconut cream pie. Then tell them further that you just want to get on the plane and put the pie on its assigned seat, and then get right off."

    "Everything went as planned. Well, almost everything."

    "The plane arrived in Chicago minus the pie."

    "The pickup man said when he asked the stewardess what happened to the pie, she just smiled and said 'Guess?'."

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Coconut Cream Pies Loved by GI's

Elliott Sudler, a retired Newark pharmacist, related to me another Tavern coconut cream pie tie-in that he experienced during his services in the United States Army, in 1951.

During the Korean War, he served as a pharmacist with the First Army Medical Field Forces at Fort Lee, Virginia.

The officer in charge of the military base mess hall, that fed 300-500 soldiers, was 22-year old David Teiger, who was the son of Sam Teiger, owner of The Tavern Restaurant in Newark, and a recent graduate of the Cornell University School of Restaurant Management.

Sudler recalls that Lt. Teiger was extremely good at food preparation and highly skilled at making baked specialties. Sudler who was familiar with Tavern desserts, thought that he had either brought the Tavern Restaurant baked goods recipes with him, or that they had been given to him, because the desserts at the base were "out of this world" and the men were wild for the coconut cream pies and cheese cakes that Lieutenant Teiger occasionally created for the GI food menu at the Fort Lee Army base.


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