September 25, 2018

Gerber's Restaurant - Salem, Massachusetts

Gerber's Restaurant, 1959

Louis Gerber got his start in the restaurant industry as a teenager working at Hunt’s Cafeteria in Lynn. By the time he turned twenty, he was already head chef at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital. After traveling New England, working in the area’s top restaurants, Louis and his wife, Alice, settled in Salem to raise their family. Louis and his brother Joseph opened Gerber’s Restaurant on Essex Street before relocating to their permanent location at 114 Washington Street in Town House Square in 1942. Gerber’s Restaurant quickly grew a following and was frequented by locals, lawyers, judges, politicians, and even visiting celebrities, earning the nickname “Little City Hall.”
In 1948, Louis expanded Gerber’s and soon the small fifteen-seat counter and tables were transformed into seating for over one hundred. Gerber’s business continued to grow; The Salem Evening News claimed that the restaurant was the busiest and most successful in the city and that Gerber’s was “as well known as The House of the Seven Gables in this area.”
The food wasn’t the only reason people visited Gerber’s - Louis’ German Shepard Ferdinand often waited outside for his owner to get out of work and was well-known around Salem, regularly making the newspaper for his adventures. For years, “Ferdie” had city dog license #1, which was advertised to encourage other dog owners to also get their dogs licensed. When Ferdinand got older and was confined to the house, he regularly received cards and gifts from locals who missed seeing him around the city. Ferdinand lived to the age of fourteen.
Louis Gerber, Gerber's Restaurant
During the 1950s, while a new railroad tunnel was being constructed under Washington Street, Gerber’s was only accessible by walking on a wooden plank over a large hole in the ground. But even this could not slow business for the Gerber Brothers. In 1959, with the new tunnel complete, Gerber’s was renovated inside and out and had a grand re-opening that July.
After thirty-years, Louis and Joseph Gerber retired in July 1970 and sold Gerber’s Restaurant to Marvin Berman. The following January, the building that housed Gerber’s erupted in flames. The fire was especially difficult to control due to the below zero temperatures that quickly froze the water sprayed on it. Louis Gerber was heartbroken by the loss of Gerber’s but remained active in the community, overseeing food preparations for local festivals and events. He died unexpectedly in December 1986; he was 81.

*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections
Images above are from their collections.