Jack J. Hub­ber­man

Bal­ti­morean gave up dry clean­ing business to open a pi­o­neer­ing Ocean City baby back rib joint

Baltimore Sun - - OBITUARIES - By Fred­er­ick N. Ras­mussen fras­mussen@balt­sun.com

Jack J. Hub­ber­man, a for­mer Bal­ti­more busi­ness­man whowith­a­part­ner­estab­lished the pop­u­lar Ocean City rib joint J/R’s, “The Place for Ribs,” died Sun­day from can­cer at his Pikesville home. He was 87.

“I was a big fan of the ribs, but a big­ger fan of Jack,” said Ralph L. Sapia, an at­tor­ney and for­mer ed­u­ca­tor who grew up in Ocean City, where his fam­ily owned and op­er­ated the Mon­ti­cello Ho­tel and Surf Inn.

“He was the first per­son to bring baby back ribs to Ocean City. In those days, when peo­ple thought about ribs they were spare ribs,” said Mr. Sapia, a Tow­son res­i­dent. “So, be­tween steamed crabs and Jack’s baby back ribs, he helped make Ocean City in the 1980s the epi­cen­ter of messy eat­ing.”

“Ev­ery Friday evening when we were in Ocean City we’d have ribs at J/R’s,” said Dr. Jerome P. “Jerry” Re­ich­meis­ter, an or­tho­pe­dic sur­geon who lives in Pikesville.

“It be­came our stan­dard joke. I’m Jewish, and on Friday you are sup­posed to have the tra­di­tional Shab­bat meal, but when I was in Ocean City on Fri­days I al­ways had Jack’s ribs. I knew the Lord was look­ing down on me and say­ing, ‘It’s OK,’ ” said Dr. Re­ich­meis­ter with a laugh.

The son of Louis Hub­ber­man, part owner of Di­a­mond Cab Co., and Rose Hub­ber­man, a home­maker, Jack Jerome Hub­ber­man was born in Bal­ti­more and raised on Oak­ley Av­enue in For­est Park.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from For­est Park High School, he en­listed in the Army in 1945 and served in Ja­pan. He was dis­charged in the late 1940s. In 1950, he mar­ried Jac­que­line R. “Jackie” Draun.

In the early 1950s, he es­tab­lished Town and Coun­try Dry Clean­ers on Gar­ri­son Boule­vard. He also opened five laun­dro­mats.

He op­er­ated another business sell­ing laun­dro­mat equip­ment to op­er­a­tors. In the 1960s he sold the dry clean­ing business to his em­ploy­ees while he kept the laun­dro­mats.

In 1977, the Hub­ber­mans moved to Ocean City and opened the Potato Shack on Third Av­enue and the Board­walk af­ter hear­ing about a new method of cook­ing pota­toes.

“They had heard about Rosso-Bake, which used a hot resin to cook pota­toes, and made the best baked pota­toes. They also served french fries and onion rings,” said a son, Louis Hub­ber­man, of Owings Mills.

“I re­mem­ber see­ing this ma­chine and telling Jackie, ‘This is go­ing to knock peo­ple’s socks off,’ ” the el­der Mr. Hub­ber­man told Ocean City To­day in an in­ter­view last year.

The potato business proved to be so pop­u­lar that Mrs. Hub­ber­man worked from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Then her hus­band took over un­til 2 a.m., when it closed.

“He took those pota­toes and wrapped them in pa­per and made them into a fin­ger food,” Mr. Sapia re­called.

Look­ing for other op­por­tu­ni­ties in the res­tau­rant business led the cou­ple to travel through­out the South and as far west as Texas and Hawaii to see and ex­pe­ri­ence types of ribs bathed in a va­ri­ety of sauces.

Hav­ing dis­posed of the laun­dro­mats by 1980, the cou­ple joined with Joe Colton, who owned an Ital­ian res­tau­rant in Ocean City, and opened the first J/R’s at 62nd Street and Coastal High­way.

The res­tau­rant took its names from the part­ners’ wives: Mr. Hub­ber­man’s wife, Jac­que­line, and Mr. Colton’s wife, Ruth.

They added a sec­ond lo­ca­tion in 1984 at 131st Street, and restau­rants in Re­hoboth Beach, Del., and on the Ocean City Board­walk.

“When you came into Ocean City on 62nd Street, J/R’s was look­ing at you right in the face,” said Earl Tay­lor, of Fen­wick Is­land, Del., a long­time friend who used to own an Ocean City McDonald’s.

“In the prime days of the 1980s, you had to wait out­side to get in dur­ing the sum­mer­time. The place on 131st Street seated 400, and you still had to wait to get in. Jack and Joe were icons in Ocean City,” Mr. Tay­lor said. “Ev­ery night, Jack was greet­ing and seat­ing cus­tomers. He was a hands-on business owner.”

Mr. Hub­ber­man bought out his part­ner in 2000, his son said.

Another gus­ta­tory nov­elty at J/R’s was onion rings — com­monly called an onion loaf — that were placed in bat­ter and deep-fried. When they emerged, then re­sem­bled the shape of a loaf of bread.

A Bal­ti­more Sun reviewer wrote in 1988 that the onion loaf “was one of the best I’ve ever had — a hot mound of thick-sliced, juicy onions, per­fectly fried. … The ribs were a messy de­light. Ten­der, moist and fla­vor­ful, you know this is the rea­son you’re here.”

In ad­di­tion to ribs, J/Rs fea­tured bar­be­cued chicken, seafood and steaks. En­trees ar­rived with warm bread, large wedges of ranch fries or a baked potato, cole slaw or ap­ple sauce.

“The com­bi­na­tion of the ribs and the onion ring loaf — af­ter you ate it, you were a mess,” Mr. Sapia said. “Then that great sauce Jack had for the ribs.”

“It was a smoky toma­to­based sauce, not vine­gar­based, and it had a hint of sweet­ness,” his son said. “The recipe was a closely guarded se­cret and was kept in a safe. I don’t even know it.” “When­ever I asked Jack — and I ate there all of the time — what was the se­cret to the sauce, he’d just look at me and smile,” Mr. Tay­lor said with a laugh.

“Jack was both a trend­set­ter and a trend-spot­ter. He fig­ured out that ribs would be a big item be­cause no one else had them in Ocean City. He was a vi­sion­ary,” Dr. Re­ich­meis­ter said. “He was out front seat­ing peo­ple and also in the kitchen, where he con­stantly was try­ing to im­prove the prod­uct for peo­ple.”

Mr. Hub­ber­man opened a com­mis­sary where he sold both frozen ribs and sauce to cus­tomers; he sold honey-baked hams at hol­i­day time to pa­trons who wished to take them home, as well as con­duct­ing a mail-or­der business.

Mr. Hub­ber­man en­joyed eat­ing ribs, but in mod­er­a­tion. “Be­cause he had had sev­eral heart at­tacks, he re­ally ate fish for health rea­sons,” his son said.

Off sea­son, Mr. Hub­ber­man lived in Aven­tura, Fla., and in Pikesville. His wife died in 2014.

Due to fail­ing health, Mr. Hub­ber­man closed J/R’s last year. His son had the task of clos­ing the business.

‘My fa­ther al­ways said how im­por­tant it was to be an hon­or­able per­son, that your word was your bond, and your name ev­ery­thing,” his son said.

“Across the board, when I told peo­ple that we were clos­ing, they said, ‘I dealt with your fa­ther for 30 years, and he was an hon­or­able man, and a man of his word.’ It was a tes­ta­ment to who he was.”

“When I think about the vol­ume of ribs, chicken, and onion loaf that went from kitchen to ta­bles it makes me dizzy,” Mr. Hub­ber­man told Ocean City To­day. “Over the years we were part of so many peo­ple’s sum­mer mem­o­ries. You would come to know peo­ple’s birthdays, anniversaries, their kids, grand­kids … what a bless­ing.”

Fu­neral ser­vices will be held at 11 a.m. to­day at Sol Levin­son & Bros. Inc., 8900 Reis­ter­stown Road, Pikesville.

Mr. Hub­ber­man is also sur­vived by another son, Steven D.H. Hub­ber­man of Po­tomac; a daugh­ter, Linda Green­wald of Mo­bile, Ala.; a brother, Alan Hub­ber­man of Ocean City; two sis­ters, Betty Kupfer of Ran­dall­stown and Gertrude Shapiro of Pikesville; four grand­chil­dren; and com­pan­ion Nancy Tut­tle­man. Jack Hub­ber­man “helped make Ocean City ... the epi­cen­ter of messy eat­ing,” a friend said.

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