The Reuben sandwich is an American hot sandwich composed of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing, grilled between slices of rye bread. Several variants exist.
Reuben Kulakofsky, Blackstone Hotel, Omaha, Nebraska
The most widely accepted origin holds that Reuben Kulakofsky (his first name sometimes spelled Reubin; his last name sometimes shortened to Kay), a Jewish Lithuanian-born grocer residing in Omaha, Nebraska, was the inventor, perhaps as part of a group effort by members of Kulakofsky’s weekly poker game held in the Blackstone Hotel from around 1920 through 1935.
The participants, who nicknamed themselves “the committee”, included the hotel’s owner, Charles Schimmel. The sandwich first gained local fame when Schimmel put it on the Blackstone’s lunch menu, and its fame spread when a former employee of the hotel won a national contest with the recipe. In Omaha, March 14 was proclaimed as Reuben Sandwich Day.
Reuben’s Delicatessen: New York City
Another account holds that the Reuben’s creator was Arnold Reuben, the German-Jewish owner of the famed Reuben’s Delicatessen (1908 – 2001) in New York City. According to an interview with Craig Claiborne, Arnold Reuben invented the “Reuben Special” around 1914. The earliest references in print to the sandwich are New York–based, but that is not conclusive evidence, though the fact that the earliest, in a 1926 issue of Theatre Magazine, references a “Reuben Special”, does seem to take its cue from Arnold Reuben’s menu.
A variation of the above account is related by Bernard Sobel in his 1953 book, Broadway Heartbeat: Memoirs of a Press Agent. Sobel states that the sandwich was an extemporaneous creation for Marjorie Rambeau inaugurated when the famed Broadway actress visited the Reuben’s Delicatessen one night when the cupboards were particularly bare.
Some sources name the actress in the above account as Annette Seelos, not Marjorie Rambeau, while also noting that the original “Reuben Special” sandwich of 1926 did not contain corned beef or sauerkraut and was not grilled.
Still other versions give credit to Alfred Scheuing, a chef at Reuben’s Delicatessen, and say he created the sandwich for Reuben’s son, Arnold Jr., in the 1930s.