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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                       ERWIN ZABAN (1921-2010)

INTERVIEWER:                   SANDY BERMAN

DATE:                                   JANUARY 31, 2006

LOCATION:                         ATLANTA, GEORGIA

ID#:                                      OHC 10774

NUMBER OF PAGES:           28

 

Transcript (PDF)

EXCERPTS/HIGHLIGHTS:

“My dad went into business in 1937.  I was not quite 17 years old.  I quit school, much against my parents’ wishes, and helped him out.  My mother was the office girl.  I used to do some packing and sweeping the floors.  My dad went out and sold chemicals.  Then we grew from that . . . I was a youngster when I . . . actually I was still in my twenties . . . we had a very small company with maybe eight or ten salespeople and it grew.  We were very fortunate and lucky.  Then in about 1952 we decided, along with our confidante, Max Cuba, to sell our salespeople and our other employees a stake in the company.  That really was the reason we really grew after that. We opened branches all over the country: Canada, Europe.  We merged that company . . . actually sold it to National Linen Service in 1962.  Today that company has about 1,400 salespeople throughout the world and is probably one of the three or four largest in the business in the country.”  5

On the business in World War II:

“During that time there was a severe shortage of merchandise. I think you saw in that booklet of mine, letters I had written when I was 23 [or] 24-years-old to the salespeople saying we had no more of this and we were out of that.  It was a tough time.  But we had suppliers who were good to us.  They kept us in business.  Of course all of our younger salespeople were also drafted or volunteered into the service.  Tough times.”  10

On Jewish social life in Fifties and Sixties Atlanta:

“For Jewish people it was a very different social life.  My father could not join the Standard Club, because it was for German Jews at that time.  Many years later, they invited him and he joined . . . 30 years later.  But I had friends who were . . . their parents were members.  I used to go there once in a while.  Then we had two other clubs, the [Jewish] Progressive Club, which my father was one of the early founders of . . . that came out of another club . . . the Don’t Worry Club.  Then they had the Progressive Club.  Then the members of the Progressive Club, as they got older, wanted to socialize with some people of their age instead of youngsters and they started the Mayfair Club, which was on Spring Street, right near where Federation is today.  The Mayfair Club had a horrible fire later and never reopened.  But it was a different social life. The Ashkenazi Jews were looked down upon by the Reform German Jews, and they looked down on the Sephardic. It was not like today.  Today we really have a much different community, thank goodness.  We really do.”   10, 11

On Atlanta in the 1950’s and 1960’s:

“There were very few good restaurants.  There was one called Heron’s downtown near the Rialto Theater.  There was one on Peachtree [Street], Hart’s . . . in later years, [the] Coach and Six.  People did a lot of their dining in the clubs.  Jewish people . . . we had three clubs that were in town, so that we ate more in the clubs than we did in other restaurants back in those days.  . . . [The Paradise Room] was a popular place.  There was also one in the Ansley Hotel [the Rainbow Room].  They had shows and dancing, things of that type.”  16, 17

On Leb’s restaurant and Charlie Lebedin:

“Charlie Leb came here, I think from Miami [Florida]. Another fellow came here from Miami and opened . . . I forget now . . . right next to the Biltmore Hotel.  Anyway, Charlie Leb came here and opened a restaurant on Forsyth Street, on the corner.  It was the first real deli sort of restaurant that we had that was good. We had some when I was younger, Gold’s, Kaufman’s . . . but he did very well.  It was the place to go late at night or whenever.  He got in trouble with the black community and rejected them, and they just killed him.  He ended up opening a restaurant in the Cabana Hotel later . . . Cabana Motel on Peachtree . . . called ‘King’s Inn.’  But he was a character.”  18

On Steve Selig:

“One of the most interesting things that happened to me over the years was when Steve Selig’s father died.  I guess it was a month later I called Steve and said, “I want to have lunch with you.”  He came and we had lunch.  I said, “Steve, your father was always a good contributor, but he was never really interested in the Jewish community except the Temple.  You got to do . . . get interested. You’ve got the means and you’ve got a whole circle of friends that aren’t involved.”  He tells this story over and over again.  Twenty years later I said to him, “I told you [that] you should pick what you wanted.  I didn’t know you were going to pick everything.”  

“I don’t want to get taken up with myself or with wealth.  At 85, if you’ve never realized it before in your whole life, you realize that money is just not everything.  After you have all the necessities of life and what luxuries you want and can afford, the rest of it doesn’t mean anything.  You have to get older to realize that, though, because when you’re younger you’re always out there fighting for more business or more organizations or whatever it is you’re doing, but fortunately I have a great family.  They’ve carried it on very well.”  27

BIOGRAPHY

Erwin Zaban was an only child.  His paternal grandparents, David and Ann Zaban, settled in Atlanta with their eight children in 1895.  David Zaban had a furniture store in Atlanta.  Erwin’s maternal grandparents, Max and Rachel Feidelson started out in New York in 1908, and later settled in Savannah, Georgia, where they owned a grocery store.  Sara Feidelson, Erwin’s mother, was next to the youngest of the six children. 

In the mid-1920’s, Erwin’s father, Mandle Zaban, opened a furniture store in Miami, Florida, where he was quite successful until a hurricane in 1926 wiped everything out.  He then became a salesman for the Puritan Chemical Company.  In 1937, he went into business for himself and founded Zep Manufacturing, which made cleaning and sanitation supplies.  Zep Manufacturing was named for its three founding partners: Mandle Zaban, Erwin’s father; Billy Eplan; and Samuel Powell.  Billy Eplan died within a year, and Samuel Powell moved to Augusta to work in another family chemical business. 

Erwin dropped out of high school and began to work full-time at Zep Manufacturing. After his father retired in about 1948, Erwin took charge of the business, which experienced its first growth spurt in 1952 when he sold a stake in the business to the employees.  Zep merged with National Linen Services in 1962.  National Linen Services continued to grow through acquisitions and in 1962 became National Service Industries, with earnings of more than $2.5 billion per year, during which time Erwin rose to become CEO of the entire company.   

Erwin married Doris Reisman when he was 20 and they had three daughters: Laura [Dinerman], Carol [Cooper] and Sara [Franco]. After his divorce from Doris he married Judy Oliver.

Erwin became involved in the Jewish community in the mid-1950’s when he headed a fundraising campaign for the Atlanta Jewish Federation with Milton Weinstein.  He continued to be involved in philanthropy in the Jewish community with his generous donations of time and money to the Atlanta Jewish Community Center, Temple Night Shelter (now the Zaban Couples Center) and the Zaban Tower and other projects.  Erwin’s three daughters, Laura Dinerman, Carol Cooper and Sara Franco, are also very active in the local Jewish community.

Erwin died in 2010 at the age of 89.

SCOPE OF INTERVIEW

Erwin describes his family background (both the Zabans and Feidelsons) and their arrival in the United States.  He discusses how his father, Mandle Zaban, founded Zep Manufacturing, which made cleaning and sanitation supplies.  He offers a detailed inside look at Zep’s merger with National Linen Services, and NLS’s subsequent growth through acquisitions including Atlantic Envelope Company, Selig Chemical Industries, Lithonia Lighting and others.  In 1962 National Linen Industries became National Service Industries, with earnings of more than $2.5 billion per year.  He talked about the benefits of having a good Board of Directors, which he asserts added to the company’s success.

Erwin spoke of the many friends he made through his personal, business and community service including:  Milton Weinstein, Meyer Balser, M. William Breman, Sidney Feldman, David Goldwasser, Bernard Marcus, Max Kuniansky, Barney Medintz, Abe Goldstein, Benjamin Massell, Sam Massell, Maynard Jackson, and Steve Selig.

Erwin briefly touches on the civil rights years, Charlie Lebedin’s Leb’s restaurant and its integration and how Zep had already hired black workers and had prominent black leaders on their board.

Erwin attributes his success to his family and to those he met along the way who helped guide his efforts.   Erwin modestly describes how he came to donate the funds for various facilities, from the Temple Night Shelter (now the Zaban Couples Shelter) renovation to building the Zaban Tower.  He proudly discusses how involved his daughters continue to be in the Jewish community. 

Erwin also discusses Jewish life in Atlanta in the Fifties and Sixties, including the restaurants and clubs as well as the religious community.  He details the divisions between German and Russian Jews in the synagogues and social life.  He also discusses the growth and development of Atlanta.

This interview is a virtual who’s who of the major benefactors in the Atlanta Jewish community as well as the primary Jewish movers and shakers of the local business community.

KEYWORDS

Adair, Irving

Ahavath Achim—Atlanta, Georgia

Alexander, Cecil Jr.

Ashkenazi

Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta Envelope—Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Atlanta, Georgia—Growth

Balser, Meyer

Bat mitzvah

BellSouth

Biltmore Hotel—Atlanta, Georgia

Boys’ High School—Atlanta, Georgia

Breman, M. William

Cabana Motel/Hotel—Atlanta, Georgia

Camp Osceola—Hendersonville, North Carolina

Camps, summer

Civil rights movements

Chemical industry and trade

Clendenen, John

Coach and Six (restaurant)—Atlanta, Georgia

Coca-Cola

Cuba, Max

Delta Airlines

Dinerman, Laura Zaban

Don’t Worry Club

Eplan, Leon

Eplan, Samuel

Eplan, William (Billy)

Epstein School—Atlanta, Georgia

Feidelson, Max

Feidelson, Rachel

Feldman, A.L. (Abrom)

Feldman, Sidney

Frank, Leo M. (trial and lynching)

Furniture industry and trade

Garson, Dan

Gettinger, Mike (Max)

Goldwasser, David

Goldstein, Abe

Great Miami Hurricane, 1926

Grocery industry and trade

Haganah

Hart’s (restaurant)—Atlanta, Georgia

Henry Grady High School—Atlanta, Georgia

Henry Grady Hotel—Atlanta, Georgia

Heron’s (restaurant)—Atlanta, Georgua

High Holy Days

Hill, Jesse

Home Depot

Hotel Ansley—Atlanta, Georgia

Hurricanes

Immigration

Israel

Jackson, Maynard (Mayor)

Jewish Community Center—Atlanta, Georgia

Jewish Educational Alliance—Atlanta, Georgia

Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta—Atlanta, Georgia

Jewish-Jewish relations

Jewish Family & Career Services—Atlanta, Georgia

Jewish Progressive Club—Atlanta, Georgia

Jewish Tower—Atlanta, Georgia

Jews—Relations with blacks

Judaism, Reform

Judaism, Conservative

Judaism—Rites and ceremonies

Kahn, Ed

Keough, Donald

Kennesaw State University—Atlanta, Georgia

King, Coretta Scott

King, Martin Luther Sr.

Kuniansky, Max

Leb’s (restaurant)—Atlanta, Georgia

Lebedin, Charlie (Charles)

Lithonia Lighting—Atlanta, Georgia

London, Max

Marcus, Bernard (Bernie)

Marcus Jewish Community Center—Atlanta, Georgia

Massell, Benjamin

Mayfair Club—Atlanta, Georgia

Maziar, Harry

Meals on Wheels

Medintz, Barney

Medlin, John

Miami, Florida

Mickve Israel—Savannah, Georgia

Morris, Perry

Mossman, Sydney (Rabbi)

National Linen Service—Atlanta, Georgia

National Service Industries—Atlanta, Georgia

Nemo, Carol Breman

Or VeShalom—Atlanta, Georgia

PALS

Paradise Room (Henry Grady Hotel)—Atlanta, Georgia

Powell, Samuel

Puritan Chemical Company—Atlanta, Georgia

Rakitt, Steve

Rainbow Room (Hotel Ansley)—Atlanta, Georgia

Religious education, Jewish

Restaurants

Rialto Theater—Atlanta, Georgia

Rothschild, Jacob (Rabbi)

Russell, Herman J.

Sarnat, David

Savannah, Georgia

Segregation

Siegel, Betty (Dr.)

Selig Chemical Industries—Atlanta, Georgia

Selig, Cathy

Selig, Linda

Selig, Simon (Steve) III

Selig, Simon Jr.

Selig, Simon Sr.

Sephardim

Shearith Israel—Atlanta, Georgia

Shirley Blumenthal Park—Atlanta, Georgia

Soldiers, Jewish

Solomon, Georgia (Rabbi)

Standard Club—Atlanta, Georgia

Sugarman, Alvin (Rabbi)

Sunday school

Temple—Atlanta, Georgia

Temple bombing, 1958

Temple Zaban Night Shelter—Atlanta, Georgia

Torah

United States

Wachovia Bank

Weinstein, Milton

William Breman Jewish Home—Atlanta, Georgia

William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum—Atlanta, Georgia

World War, 1939-1945

Young Leadership Council

Zaban Couples Shelter—Atlanta, Georgia

Zaban Park—Atlanta, Georgia

Zaban Tower—Atlanta, Georgia

Zaban, Ann

Zaban, David

Zaban, Doris

Zaban, Erwin

Zaban, Judy

Zaban, Mandle

Zaban Park—Atlanta, Georgia

Zaban Tower—Atlanta, Georgia

Zep Manufacturing—Atlanta, Georgia

 

 

 

 

 

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