by Bonnie L. Cook, Staff Writer
Ellen Rose Tecosky Appelbaum, 87, of East Oak Lane, co-owner of the Chestnut Hill Spice Shop and later the owner of Ellen Rose Restaurant in Germantown, died Sunday, July 17, of complications from heart disease at Einstein Medical Center.
Mrs. Appelbaum's passion for food was rooted in necessity. At age 11, after the death of her father, she became responsible for her family's meals.
Bored by the daily fare she was putting on the table, she reached out to an aunt who had lived in France and had mastered French cuisine.
"She used what she learned to make more interesting meals," said daughter Debby A. Seitz. "But it was more for her own interest in cooking than for her mother and brother, but they did benefit."
Reared in Logan and East Oak Lane, Mrs. Appelbaum started her career in the social services. In 1949, she married Noyma Appelbaum. The couple had three children.
She landed in the restaurant business by accident in 1980, when at age 50 she found herself out of a job.
A friend asked her to join the staff of his new Center City eatery, where she learned the basics of restaurant cooking. After a year, she left to become a partner with Stephanie Andrews in the Chestnut Hill Spice Shop, a restaurant rather than an actual store. As her cooking repertoire widened, she drew devoted customers from throughout the region, her family said.
After 10 years at the Spice Shop, she closed that business and reopened on Feb. 23, 1988, as Ellen Rose Restaurant at 5920 Greene St. She was the chef and owner of the new venture in the former Boswell House.
"Dinner provided one of the best meal values in some time. Curried cream of zucchini soup ($2.50) was rich and full-bodied with a steadied hand on seasonings," wrote Sam Gugino, Daily News restaurant critic, in a review published March 25, 1988.
"I chose baked mahimahi ($11.95). Two meaty fillets were sauced lightly with a refreshing soy and ginger combination containing a mélange of Oriental vegetables.
"Our waiter at dinner was fine, but someone needs to tell the busboy to tuck in his Lacoste shirt and bring bread before appetizers," Gugino wrote.
The Ellen Rose Restaurant thrived for eight years before closing in August 1996. That same year, Mrs. Appelbaum and son Andy started Ellen Rose Foods, which produces pesto sauces and salad dressings for sale in local markets. He is its president.
Several employees who trained in Mrs. Appelbaum's kitchen went on to careers in the restaurant business. Amy Edelman, owner of the Night Kitchen Bakery in Chestnut Hill, said the Spice Shop was the site of her first restaurant job as a teenager in Mount Airy.
"I started busing tables, then Ellen gave me the opportunity to cook one summer. She patiently trained me on the salad station and encouraged me with praise, which led me to culinary school," Edelman said in an email.
"I still keep in touch with people I worked with at the Spice Shop, and we often reminisce about how delicious Ellen's food was, and how much we enjoyed her cozy one-of-a-kind restaurant. It was truly a mom-and-pop shop where her kids and husband worked, creating a beloved neighborhood treasure."
Mrs. Appelbaum was a lifelong community activist, and with her husband supported the civil rights and peace movements. During the 1960s, she advocated busing as a way to combat segregation in Philadelphia's public schools.
Besides her husband, son, and daughter, she is survived by daughter Erin and two grandchildren.
Services were pending.