(New York Jewish Week) — In a city where love of babka borders on a religion, Adir Michaeli, founder of Michaeli Bakery, is the (you’ll pardon the expression) high priest of the confection.
You may not know his name, but if you love good babka, you probably know his product. Michaeli, 39, was once the pastry department manager and head pastry chef of Lechamim Bakery in Tel Aviv; there, Michaeli told the New York Jewish Week, he spent two years perfecting the babka recipe. When Lechamim founder Uri Scheft wanted to expand to the United States, he tapped Michaeli to help open Lechamim’s American cousin, Breads Bakery, in New York. Since opening in 2013, Breads has since become the gold standard for babka in New York.
After three years with Breads — which has since expanded to five locations in the city — Michaeli left the company to start his own business, which he said was a dream of his. Now, after a fitful start due to COVID, Michaeli Bakery has developed its own devoted following at two locations in Manhattan.
“People love these pastries,” said Michaeli, referring to New Yorkers’ embrace of the babka, rugelach and bourekas for which Breads, and now Michaeli, has become known.
Of course, it’s not like New Yorkers were suffering from a lack of babka prior to either bakery’s arrival. Lots of bakeries, notably Green’s Bakery of Brooklyn, had been making and selling the gooey, yeasted cake for decades. Local New York comedian Jerry Seinfeld even devoted an episode of his eponymous show to the sweet treat back in 1994.
But Breads brought a babka to New York unlike anything that New Yorkers had ever tasted before. It was made with a laminated dough, similar to croissants, and it was at once light, fluffy and rich, layered with butter, stuffed with Nutella and chocolate chunks, and glazed with a simple syrup. A couple of months after Breads opened on East 16th St. near Union Square in 2013, New York magazine food writers Robin Raisfeld and Rob Patronite anointed Breads’ babka as the best in the city.
“The business went boom!” Michaeli told the New York Jewish Week. Almost overnight, Breads went from a virtually unknown purveyor of Israeli pastries to an essential stop on the tourist food trail.
“Everyone starts to come and take pictures with the babka,” said Michaeli. During their first Rosh Hashanah, not long after the New York magazine article appeared, Michaeli said the bakery sold 3,000 loaves of babka in a single day.
(Co-founder Scheft left Breads in 2021 and now runs Bakey, a Boston bakery. As for Breads’ current ownership, a spokesperson said that Michaeli “had nothing to do with the creation of Breads Bakery’s Babka.”)
After leaving Breads, Michaeli considered opening up a bakery in Tel Aviv and briefly returned there, but, assessing the competition, he soon realized that his future was in New York.
“There was only one Israeli bakery in New York — more [of them] should come,” he said.
Living on the Upper West Side while working on his business plan and meeting with potential investors, Michaeli did some baking for Anat Sror, an Israeli-born caterer and owner of Cafe Petisco, a now-closed restaurant on the Lower East Side.
Sror knew that Michaeli wanted to start his own bakery, and though she had never invested in anybody before, she decided to back Michaeli. “He’s very talented, very passionate, and he knew exactly what he wanted to do,” said Sror. “He had a great business plan. Plus, we had worked together so I knew exactly what he is capable of. I felt it was a good risk to take.”
Sror helped Michaeli find a storefront not too far from Cafe Petisco. They both agreed it was not an ideal location, but it was within their budget. “We trusted that once people try his stuff and get to know the bakery, things will be easier,” Sror said.
Michaeli Bakery opened on Division St. on the Lower East Side in May 2019. Conceived as an “Israeli patisserie,” it sold pastries, cookies, cakes, cream cakes, cheesecakes, sandwiches and, on Fridays, challah.
Less than a year later, however, just as the bakery was developing a name for itself, the COVID-19 pandemic brought the city to its knees. As New Yorkers stayed home or left the city altogether, Sror shut her restaurant and catering concern. Meanwhile, Michaeli streamlined his bakery’s offerings, focusing on babka, rugelach and bourekas, dropping the sandwiches and cakes on his original menu.
During the long months of the pandemic, Michaeli said he worked round the clock, keeping the business open seven days a week and working as the establishment’s baker, barista and manager. On the bright side? “It gave me the flexibility to build the business over time,” he said.
His efforts paid off: Less than three years later, in March 2022, Michaeli and Sror opened a second location on East 90th St. and First Ave. “The decision to open on the Upper East Side was because customers kept saying it was too far to come to the Lower East Side,” said Sror.
Sensing “the vibe” uptown, according to Michaeli, he decided to make the bakery kosher. “My integrity is that if I’m kosher, I’m kosher,” he said, referring to his decision to have kosher supervision for both bakeries, and to close them on Saturdays and early on Fridays. “Uptown Sunday is super busy, we need the reset of Saturday. “
“My vision is that I do the best that I can,” he added. “Everyone on the team is the same. Every day should be 100%. There is no 99%. This is the DNA of the place.”
One loyal customer, art consultant Andrea Meislin, raves about the “chocolate-y, gooey and decadent” babka at Michaeli, what Meislin describes as “babka to die for.” In addition to the chocolate babka, Michaeli makes a vegan chocolate babka, cheese and cherry babka and halvah babka. His Galil bourekas, made with goat cheese, onion and za’atar, are very popular, too.
These days, the biggest challenge Michaeli faces, he said, is dealing with the enormous demand the holidays bring. “For Hanukkah, I sent the manager out to the line on the street, to say that we are sorry. We can’t catch up with demand,” said Michaeli. “We told customers [on line] to go away. It was horrible. It is a problem I am trying to solve.”
Moving forward, Sror is optimistic that the bakery will expand: “It will either be another location, perhaps on the Upper West Side, or we are thinking about making a bigger location to be able to produce a bit more,” she said. Sror hopes Michaeli will be able to expand his menu, perhaps by adding his classic, light Israeli cheesecakes, what Michaeli calls “Grandma Cheesecake.”
When asked what differentiates Michaeli’s baked goods from Breads’ or other bakeries’, the baker refused to compare, stating that he just aims to do the best he can, all the time. “If someone says this is better than this or that, I really don’t care,” says Michaeli. “There is no competition. This is what we do.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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