Salute to Norman's Steak 'n Burger

30 years of juicy history come to an end as veteran Jerusalem hamburger joint closes it doors.

Steak 88 (photo credit: )
Steak 88
(photo credit: )
Many restaurants have come and gone from Rehov Emek Refaim (Valley of the Ghosts), the German Colony street that has become Jerusalem's restaurant row. But none of them quite captured the hearts of meat lovers the way Norman's Steak 'n Burger did for 12 years on the street and another 18 in the center of town before that. Norman's closed its doors for the last time on February 28 after an abrupt announcement on its e-mail newsletter the day before, closing the book on three decades of hamburger history in the holy city. "All good things must come to an end," owner Robin Blank wrote in the newsletter. Blank added on the restaurant's Web site that, "When I started 12 years ago, I set certain targets and I have achieved these goals," in what she referred to as "a great slam dunk." Norman's was founded in 1978 by Norman Slepkov, who brought quality, large, American-style hamburgers to Israel. As the restaurant grew and moved from Rehov Agron to Rehov Yoel Salomon to Rehov Hama'alot, Slepkov prided himself on creating a home away from home for his patrons, many of them American tourists and immigrants. Norman's was also visited by many celebrities over the years, including former US secretary of state Colin Powell. One woman infamously told the restaurant owners that she decided to give birth at nearby Bikur Holim Hospital, so she could eat a hot, take-out Norman's burger immediately after having her baby. When Toronto-born Blank and her father David bought the restaurant, they moved it to Rehov Emek Refaim and introduced many new items to the menu, including the one-kilo Sumoburger, billed as the world's biggest kosher burger. Whoever managed to finish the massive sandwich received a free T-shirt and their name in the online Sumoburger Hall of Fame. Among the innovations at Norman's were a delicious meat soup, garlic honey beef and a cheap lunch burger special that included soup, salad, fries and a drink. But what brought back customers repeatedly was the restaurant's VIP Club cards that guaranteed a free burger after every six meals. The cards say that they are "completely transferable" and that they "never expire." Well, I guess now they do. Anyone want to buy a card worth a free steakburger? But the owners of the restaurant graciously agreed to refund an NIS 200 gift certificate that I got for my birthday, which I had been saving for a special occasion. I was devastated to hear the news of Norman's closing. As a proud Chicago carnivore who grew up eating the juicy, kosher burgers of the all-American Ken's Diner in Skokie, Illinois, Norman's provided me with memories of home in every bite. The restaurant has been a very special part of my life. It was the first place I laid eyes on my future wife (when she was meeting the parents of a boy who thankfully later declined to make aliya for her); I went there for lunch on the day of my wedding; my wife's aunt hosted a sheva brachot there for our friends; and I even went there on the day that my daughter was born (my wife and I didn't realize she was in labor yet). Norman's was my place. And it was that way for a lot of people. The owners say they are still considering reopening the restaurant in a different location some day, but they made no promises. Norman's is gone from the Valley of the Ghosts. So it must be in Hamburger Heaven.