Jane Phillips: The Kinston restaurant on Broadway
The New York Café in Kinston operated for many years at 217 N. Queen St. (In later years this site was where Christopher’s Café was located). I am going to venture to say that some of their customers were members of the prominent Oettinger family.
The Oettingers came to America from Wurttemberg, Germany, before the American Civil War. When the Civil War started, David Oettinger was living in Virginia. It was there he joined the Confederate Army.
Before the end of Reconstruction, David was the first of the Oettinger brothers to find his way to Kinston. In just a matter of years, his brothers Sol and Abraham followed.
The Oettingers were a Jewish family and among the first to reside in Kinston. In the late 19th century, the Jewish community of Kinston was small and passing on Jewish traditions to the next generation was often difficult. There was no synagogue in Kinston so members of the Oettinger family often attended churches in the community but still observed the Jewish holidays.
The family eventually established Oettinger Dry Goods business, and over the years it evolved into Oettinger Furniture Store. The business flourished and operated in Kinston for at least three to four generations.
This story is about David Oettinger. His immigration papers describe him as fair complexioned with a big nose, small mouth and brown hair. His stature was only 5 feet, 3 inches tall. There is much truth in the old cliché: “Never judge a book by its cover”. David had abilities and became a successful business man and a prominent citizen in the community. He was a Mason and was on the board of directors for the First National Bank.
In his retirement years, David became a magistrate and demonstrated much wisdom in his judgements.
On one trip to New York, where he had family, David met with two brothers who were from Germany. I do not know if David knew the brothers before this trip. However, I would think there was a prior connection to each other because of what was going to transpire between them.
Brothers Wolfe and Weiler came to New York City around the time World War I started in Europe. The young men had dreams and were full of pluck and energy but little capital. They needed a benefactor to make their dreams of having their own restaurant come true. I do not know what kind of deal David made with the brothers; all David would say about the matter was that he did them a favor.
Plans moved forward and the restaurant became a reality at 2824 Broadway. The brothers, feeling they owed David Oettinger a debt of gratitude, named their restaurant “Kinston”. Now there was a New York Restaurant back in Kinston and a Kinston Restaurant in New York City.
The establishment was a whopping success. The menu was full of à la Kinston specials. Kinston vegetable salad, Kinston grilled pork tenderloin, Kinston special fruit salad and lots of other à la Kinston food items were on the menu. It was reported that pictures of Kinston decorated the walls of the eatery.
In late 1921 the lease was up on the building that housed the Kinston Restaurant. The owner of the building would not renew the lease because he was going to tear the restaurant building down and build a theater on the property. Over the years there have been many changes. Today Chase Bank-Columbia University Branch is conducting business where the Kinston Restaurant once stood.
I do not know what ever happened to Wolfe and Weiler. As for David Oettinger, he lived out the rest of his life in Kinston. In 1924 David Oettinger died while in his mid-eighties.
The Kinston Restaurant in New York City and the New York Restaurant in Kinston are places of the past and hardly anyone alive know either ever existed. Such is life and changes are always with us, perhaps not to keep life from becoming stagnant but to keep it exciting and fresh.
Leonard Lee Oettinger, Jr. Obituary
David Oettinger 80th Birthday Daily Free Press Dec. 16, 1921
New York, Passenger and Crew Lists 1820-1957
US Passport Application 1795-1925
Daily Free Press December 16, 1921 pg. 4
Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities - Kinston, N. C.