Werner “Benji” Benjamin, who slipped from the Nazis’ grasp, eventually made his way to Milwaukee, and opened the storied Benjamin’s Delicatessen and Restaurant of Shorewood, died May 5, 2021. He was 93.
Werner was born in a German village on July 30, 1927. After Kristallnacht in 1938, he was sent to Holland to live with a relative. Later, the Nazis invaded Holland, but Werner was rescued by the Dutch underground in 1942. He remained underground until the liberation of Holland in 1945, according to a 1986 Chronicle account.
He first tried to emigrate to Israel but came to the United States with help from a relative in New York.
Werner worked in catering for Hilton Hotels in California. They owned Capitol Restaurants and he ran a Corn Beef Corner for them, according to Jewish Museum Milwaukee archives. Family and friends, plus work for the Fred Harvey Chain, brought Werner to Milwaukee in 1959, according to Chronicle accounts. Werner said he liked Milwaukee and decided to open a delicatessen here.
He opened Benjamin’s Delicatessen and Restaurant at 4160 N. Oakland Ave. in Shorewood in 1963. He made use of fixtures and tables from a prior restaurant that had closed in the same spot. The restaurant became a staple of Jewish Milwaukee, with regulars swarming the counter for daily schmoozing, with coffee, with eggs on challah, or with a corned beef sandwich.
“I sometimes come back for lunch. I love it here,” said one customer in a 1985 Chronicle report on the neighborhood feel of the place, titled, “The Breakfast Club: These men share a special feeling of camaraderie at Shorewood restaurant.”
“Benji’s” is still open there today, along with a second location in Fox Point, under new ownership. Werner sold the business in 1995.
Werner is survived by proud daughter Deborah Benjamin and is remembered fondly by many.
Blane Goodman Funeral Service is assisting the family.
A celebration of life service will be held at 1 p.m. on Friday July 30, 2021, at Congregation Shalom, 7630 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Fox Point. To join the Shalom service virtually, visit Zoom.us/j/95933309226#success. Deborah will receive condolences at Congregation Shalom until 3 p.m., but advance registration is required and COVID protocols will be followed. Register to attend in person here: Cong-Shalom.org/form/werner-benjamin-service.html. Visit here to make a contribution to Congregation Shalom in memory of Werner: Cong-Shalom.org/make-fund-donation.
A community reception will be held at Benji’s Fox Point from 4-8 p.m. on Friday, July 30 and Benji’s Shorewood on July 31st, 4-8 p.m. The public is invited to visit with the family and share stories.