When Charles Rosenberg died in 1939, the Lancaster New Era called the Lititz resident “one of the most picturesque of the medicine showmen of the east.”
Rosenberg had become famous — and possibly rich — hawking his “Great Century Oil” and “Rosenberg’s Hair Tonic” at carnivals, festivals and county fairs all along the East Coast and up and down the Mississippi River. Remembered as returning home from trips with bags filled with rolled up money, Rosenberg touted his products as cures for a wide variety of ills.
“Through a secret process, and in proportions known only to the manufacturer, this medicine is carefully compounded and offered to you as an excellent Laxative and Alterative,” read one advertisement for his concoctions.
Rosenberg’s tonics and liniments are no longer available today, but a “secret recipe” he created is still being used for hamburgers sold at Rosey’s Lunch, a downtown Lititz food trailer that marked its 100th anniversary over the weekend. After so many years, the simple food trailer with its no nonsense menu has come to occupy a special place in the life of the town, even for those unaware of its long, colorful history.
“I always liked Rosey’s burgers. There’s some magic about them. They have some secret ingredient,” said Dennis Beck, a local real estate agent. “I was born and raised in Lititz, so I grew up with Rosey’s.”
Rosey’s Lunch is a food trailer that sells burgers, hotdogs and pork barbecue sandwiches every Saturday, and only Saturdays, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Broad Street near the entrance to Lititz Springs Park. Rosey’s Lunch began on July 4, 1922, when Charles Rosenberg’s son, Arthur, put a food stand together and walked it in a wheelbarrow down to the square where he sold his hot dogs and hamburgers.
Since then, three generations of Rosenbergs and two non-family owners have sold the burgers and hot dogs from a variety of mobile set-ups that in addition the original wooden stand have included a “little house on wheels” built atop a 1923 Studebaker, a converted 1948 Dodge van, and the current 1980s-era trailer that was put into service by one of the non-Rosenbergs who have operated Rosey’s Lunch.
And each owner — including current owner Wally Ream — has made burgers using an undisclosed recipe whose formulation is credited to Charles Rosenberg.
“That’s the whole appeal. It’s the ingredients and the way you do it,” said Ted Rosenberg, Arthur Rosenberg’s grandson who operated Rosey’s Lunch for four years in the 1980s and continues to guard the “secret” recipe. “There’s nothing in the burger that is illegal or would hurt you,” he assures.
Ream, who has owned and operated Rosey’s Lunch since 1987, says he still makes the burgers the original way, but says he doesn’t regard it as all that unusual.
“I ain’t really going to tell you what we do or how we do it, but it ain’t nothing like top secret or nothing,” Ream told a reporter for LNP | LancasterOnline. “We just call it the special recipe and that’s what people always called it, and I just left it at that.”
Mousetrap engineer becomes entrepreneur
A Navy veteran of World War I, Arthur Rosenberg was working as an engineer at Animal Trap Co. of America in Lititz, when he began selling food on Saturdays to support his five children, according to his son, Bruce, who was enlisted to spend most Saturdays working for his dad.
“That’s one reason I wasn’t allowed to go out for football or participate in my high school sports events because I had to work Saturdays in the lunch wagon,” said Bruce Rosenberg, who added that it was typically just him and his brother Bob working at the stand without his father.
Bruce Rosenberg confirmed that while it was his father’s stand, the burger recipe came from his grandfather, Charles. “The original recipe was from the medicine man, Charles Allen Rosenburg,” he said.
Arthur Rosenberg eventually stopped designing mousetraps for the company now called Woodstream and went out on his own as a food entrepreneur. In 1933 he began Rosey’s Ice Cream with an ice cream making machine in his garage, which he eventually sold from a truck that made deliveries in town. While the ice cream business became his main job, he kept operating Rosey’s Lunch on Saturdays.
When Arthur Rosenberg died in 1955, Bob Rosenburg took over operations of Rosey’s Ice Cream as well as Rosey’s Lunch, which was by then doing business from a Dodge van that Arthur had bought new in 1948 and converted into a food truck. Bob Rosenberg kept both businesses until the mid-1970s when he became a real estate agent.
Stanley Miller bought Rosey’s Lunch in 1976, the same year he graduated from Manheim Township High School. Miller, who ran Rosey’s Lunch until 1983 when he sold it to Ted Rosenberg, is the one who moved it into the trailer that is still in use today. Miller had the trailer built to his specifications by Sunline Coach in Denver. He is also the one who added pork BBQ sandwiches to the menu.
‘Whether I’m busy or not, I show up’
Ream, 67, is a Lititz resident who was a postal service worker when he bought Rosey’s Lunch in 1987. He says he saw it as something he could continue to do into retirement.
“I ain’t going to become no millionaire, but it’s a good part-time job — you work for yourself. Yeah, it’s been good to me,” said Ream, who does the cooking in the back of the trailer that he stores at his house during the week.
Ream, who retired from the post office in 2012, brings a commitment to Rosey’s Lunch similar to what is embodied in the Postal Service’s unofficial motto, which says “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
“In bad weather, if I can get in, I come in,” Ream says. “Whether I’m busy or not, I show up.”
Ream, who has now owned Rosey’s Lunch longer than anyone, said he has long rearranged his schedule for weekend outings so he doesn’t miss his weekly 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. appointment near the square. He’s also maintained the low prices he sees as core to the business.
“I did (raise prices) one time, but I don’t really want to because I want people to have a cheap lunch,” he said.
At Rosey’s Lunch, hamburgers are $2, cheeseburgers are $2.25, a hot dog is $2 and a pork BBQ sandwich is $2.50.
Ream said he plans to own Rosey’s Lunch for a couple more years before trying to find a buyer for the food trailer that is the longstanding exception to the borough’s general rule against food trailers parking on the street.
“It fits every definition of the term grandfathered,” said Elijah Yearick, the borough’s director of planning and community development.
Beck, who employed Bob Rosenberg as a real estate agent after he sold Rosey’s Lunch, said the simple experience of eating a Rosey’s Lunch burger, which has been shared across generations of families, may actually have a lot to do with the uniqueness attributed to its taste.
“Everybody thinks it’s good,” he said. “I don’t know that it’s much different than anything else, but if everybody thinks so. And as long as you’ve got that magic thing in your head, I guess it works.”