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!
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • 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.