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Patis, NYC’s largest and buzziest kosher bakery chain, files for bankruptcy

The company sold gift cards to raise capital. Now customers are racing to cash them in.

(New York Jewish Week) — For a few years there, the kosher Patis Bakery chain was expanding across New York City like cookie dough in a warm oven.

It opened more than a dozen locations in a range of neighborhoods, gaining renown among kosher-keeping diners for its high-quality pastries and urban cafe culture, and was in talks to move into the space vacated by Russ & Daughters in the Jewish Museum.

Then business hit some bumps. This week, chain filed for bankruptcy.

While the company would be able to reorganize and not just shutter under the Chapter 11 filing, the filing is a signal that Patis has been unable to sustain its growth after sweeping across the New York area since 2018. Word of the filing has begun to spread, and on Thursday, an employee at one of the chain’s Upper West Side locations said dozens of customers were cashing in their gift cards.

Yaacov Davidowitz, 25, who was at the Patis on 93rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue in the heart of the Upper West Side on Friday, was already speaking about the chain in the past tense.

“It was like a chain kosher restaurant, especially of this quality, which, like — they don’t really exist,” he said. “I’m honestly not entirely surprised given they were expanding very rapidly.”

He added, “I don’t know. It’s kind of upsetting, given it’s really good food — but not entirely surprising.”

The bankruptcy may also spell trouble for the model of understated kosher food service that Patis sought to embody. Unlike many kosher restaurants across the city, which prominently advertise their rabbinic certification and serve a primarily Orthodox Jewish clientele, Patis presents itself as a mainstream cafe chain and appeals to a broader audience. Its food is certified kosher, but many of the people who frequent its locations are not identifiably Jewish.

A previous attempt at that approach — a Los Angeles-based chain called the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf — closed all 12 of its Manhattan locations in 2016. That provided an opening for Patis — and potentially a foreshadowing of its ultimate fate.

Elan Kornblum, the creator of the popular Facebook group Great Kosher Restaurant Foodies, who announced the bankruptcy in a Facebook post on Thursday, said he hopes the chain finds a way to survive.

“I think it would be a big loss for the community if it just closed,” Kornblum told JTA. “I hope they figure out what locations are really profitable. And I’m sure there might be some other closures.”

Co-founded by Chef Moshe Wendel, a kosher innovator who left the company in March 2020, and now owned by Oleg “Benny” Azizov, Patis became popular among kosher-keeping New Yorkers with its dairy baked goods and lunch options. In addition to opening locations in heavily Jewish areas such as the Upper West Side, Crown Heights and Teaneck, New Jersey, the chain has served some of the city’s most crowded areas, including the Theater District.

Unlike other kosher bakery chains in Manhattan that offer only goods that are pareve — or dairy- and meat-free — Patis uses milk products, allowing for the creation and development of more sophisticated baked goods, like flaky tarts (both sweet and savory); genuine baguettes; and a variety of cheesecakes and danishes. All are made in the company’s Lyndhurst, New Jersey, bakehouse.

The key to the chain, however, was that it wanted to compete not only with other kosher bakeries, but with any neighborhood cafe. The company estimated last year that between half and three-quarters of its customers at some of their locations do not keep kosher.

“We don’t scream the fact that we’re for the Jewish community,” Goldie Fridman, a representative for Patis, said in September. She described the chain as a “nice, classy, upscale cafe” and added, “We could open that in places that would really need kosher that could stay open because it relies on the non-kosher customer as well.”

As recently as September, the company had plans to open two more locations, including one in lower Manhattan and one in the Jewish Museum on the Upper East Side. The Jewish Museum said on Friday that discussions regarding a partnership with Patis ended that month. Patis still has 11 operational locations throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, Long Island and New Jersey, after closing a location on the Upper East Side and one near Grand Central Station in May.

Max, a friend of Davidowitz who declined to give his last name, said he appreciated the quality but believed that the chain could afford to scale back.

“I don’t know how many other, like, higher-end kosher bakeries there are in this little area right here,” he said. “There’s also another one though, like what 20 blocks south? Not so far. So you know, maybe if they were a little more spread out, they’d fill a bigger niche.”

Slow business might not be the chain’s only issue. Court documents revealed that Patis has 21,000 unredeemed gift cards, valued at an estimated $851,000.

Many of those gift cards were sold at 50% off last Thanksgiving, raising eyebrows among Patis fans who wondered what to make of the unusually steep discount.

“I think a lot of people were worried, like, ‘Oh, wait, this seems like they’re doing it to get money to get revenue, liquid cash’ — which they did,” Kornblum said. Now, he said, that gambit could backfire.

“It’s going to be tough because if everyone starts using the gift cards, and there’s no money coming in, that’s going to be even worse,” he said.

By late afternoon Thursday, multiple customers coming in looking for a quick bite were turned away. The Upper West Side storefront had already run out of stock, and the kitchen was closed.

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