A Knish Giant Celebrates 100 Years

Doughy: Yonah Schimmel’s knishes have caught the attention of stars like Barbra Streisand.
ARIEL JANKELOWITZ
Doughy: Yonah Schimmel’s knishes have caught the attention of stars like Barbra Streisand.

By Devra Ferst

Published January 20, 2010, issue of January 29, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

‘Rivington Street [on the Lower East Side] is the latest scene of war. It is a knish war,” — or at least that’s what the New York Times reported in 1916, in an article titled “Rivington St. Sees War: Rival Restaurant Men Cut Prices on the Succulent Knish,” which highlighted competing knish shops in the neighborhood.

Today few knisheries — sellers of the round softball-sized potato and dough treats — remain. But the Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery, the granddaddy of American knish shops, is celebrating a century of the doughy goodies.

“If you haven’t had a Yonah Schimmel knish, you haven’t had a knish,” says Ellen Anistratov, who co-owns the store with her father, Alex Wolfson, a distant relative of Yonah Schimmel’s. “Any other knish is like a copy of a Chanel.”

After immigrating to New York City from Romania, Yonah Schimmel, a trained Torah scribe, wanted to be a teacher. But, to make ends meet, he started selling his wife’s knishes on Coney Island in the 1880s. After a brief stint selling knishes in another location, Schimmel opened his legendary store on East Houston Street in 1910.

During its 100-year existence, the store has been passed down through family members. Today, it remains virtually unchanged, with the original tables and display case, as well as the dumb waiter that brings the knishes from the kitchen downstairs to the shop above.

The walls are covered with newspaper articles and photographs of famous diners, including Larry David, Barbra Streisand and Woody Allen.

“It’s a destination for people.…People eat [Schimmel’s knishes] to connect them to their history,” says Laura Silver, who is currently researching a book on knishes. “You feel like you’re entering a different era.”

And where will Yonah Schimmel be in another 100 years? Perhaps just around the corner.

“I want to take it to another level — franchises, other stores.…” says Anistratov, between helping customers in the bustling shop. “But I still want to be the one making the knishes. I don’t trust anybody else.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.