H. William (Bill) Birgfeld Jr. went into business in Washington by accident, so to speak. The accident occurred on the 14th Street Bridge as Mr. Birgfeld was driving from his family's home in Boston back to his job in a hotel in Florida. It put him in a hospital and he stayed here to earn money to pay the bill.
That was in the 1930s and Mr. Birgfeld went to work as a counterman in the old Bassin's Restaurant at 14th and E streets NW. Bassin's was run in those days by Max Bassin, founder of the business, and Bassin was so impressed with Mr. Birgfeld that he soon made him manager of the place.
Bassin's specialized in serving a sandwich, potato salad and a soft drink for 25 cents. The place was so busy that they had to close it for an hour each afternoon to clean up so that they could pass health department inspections, according to Addie Bassin, Max's brother.
During World War II, Max Bassin and Mr. Birgfeld started another sandwich business. The sandwiches were sold at government buildings and elsewhere and the business became the B & B Industrial Caterers Inc.
Mr. Birgfeld remained active in B & B until a year ago, when he retired for reasons of health. He died of cancer Monday at his home in Summer, Md., at the age of 62.
B & B long ago became one of the largest businesses of its kind in the Washington area. It has the food concession at BFK Stadium and used to serve the old Glen Echo Amusement Park.
Addie Bassin recalls working for B & B (for Bassin and Birgfeld) when he was a 13-year-old and the business was just starting in an abandoned supermarket on Georgia Avenue.
"We used to make 25,000 sandwiches a day by hand," he said. "The old drugstore sandwiches - ham, ham and chesse, tuna fish, egg salad, cream cheese and olives. Everything but grilled American cheese. We had no hot sandwiches."
Max Bassin, who died last December, soon went back to running the restaurant at 14th and E and Mr. Birgfeld stayed in the catering business.
Mr. Birgfeld was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. His family moved to the Boston area when he was a child and he grew up there. He went into the food business as a youth and for a brief period had his own restaurant. After it went broke, he got the job in a Florida hotel.
He received many industry honors in Washington. He was a director and president of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. The association twice named him Caterer of the Year and in 1974 named him Restaurateur of the Year. He also was a member of th Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade and served as chairman of its membership committee.
Mr. Birgfeld was a member of the Kiwanis Club of Washington and the Congressional Country Club.
Survivors include his wife, Lola, of the home in Summer; two sons, H. William III, of Bethesda, and Robert Alan. of Washington; two brothers, Delma D., of Rocksville, and Douglas S., of Frenchtown, N.J., and two grandchildren.