In this two-part blog series, we’ll be highlighting the stories behind baking businesses – wholesale and retail, profit and nonprofit – that are located inside New York’s public markets and how each contributes to the culinary and manufacturing landscapes of the city. We begin by featuring the stories behind Davidovich Bakery and Pain D’Avignon, two businesses with established track records in wholesale, selling and distributing to grocery stores, coffee shops, restaurants, and specialty shops, and that branched out into retail through opening flagship locations at the Essex Street Market on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. But before we dig in, let’s first take a look at the role baking plays in New York City’s manufacturing sector.
Baking is literally our bread and butter in New York City making up the majority of food manufacturing businesses within the five boroughs. While manufacturing businesses in New York City have declined by more than half from 150,000 in 2001 to 75,000 in 2012, food and beverage manufacturing is one industrial sub-sector that has added businesses and jobs in recent years. According to a report from the Pratt Center for Community Development and Evergreen, an analysis of real numbers in 2013 show that food and beverage manufacturing companies made up almost one in five of all manufacturing businesses and manufacturing jobs in the five boroughs. Furthermore, this report revealed that bakeries and tortilla factories, an established subcategory in the food and beverage sector, comprised 76% of all of the food manufacturing businesses in New York City. Now we turn to two examples of baking businesses that are thriving in the city, and that both opened their flagship retail locations in the Essex Street Market.
As a longtime connoisseur of bagels, I always thought I knew bagels, that is until I sat down with Gene Davidovich, co-founder and owner of Davidovich Bakery, at his retail flagship location in the Essex Street Market. As I sunk my teeth into a toasted pumpernickel bagel loaded up with cream cheese, lox, red onion, and capers – their signature LES bagel, Gene educated me on the art of the bagel and his grandmother’s inspiration for the business.
According to Gene Davidovich, “bagels should be golden and shiny on the outside and dense, chewy, and doughy on the inside… The top of the bagel should be the same size as the bottom half and you should be able to fit it into the palm of your hand… If you press the bagel with your finger, it should spring back to its form right away.” Gene’s knowledge of bagels traces back to his youth in Kiev in the Former Soviet Union where his grandmother made bagels from scratch for family gatherings of up to 40 people. Decades later, Gene and his cousin Michael started Davidovich Bakery in 1999, the same year their grandmother passed away. While she never lived to see the company become a reality, they are proud to carry on the art of bagel-making using traditional methods and ingredients.
Davidovich Bakery has grown into a significant baked goods manufacturer, producing bagels, bread, and muffins at their factories in Woodside, Queens and Hunts Point in The Bronx. Bakers work in shifts 24 hours a day and their fleet of trucks delivers to grocery stores, specialty food shops, and cafes as far away as Princeton, New Jersey and Hartford, Connecticut. According to Gene, the company’s bagels are made “the old-fashioned way at our factory in the Bronx. It’s made the same way that you would see in the old bagel shops where the guys would stand there in front of the ovens and turn the wooden boards. That’s how all of these products are made.”
By 2012, Davidovich Bakery had built up name recognition through the sale of branded bagels in grocery stores and decided they were poised to open their first retail location. Gene explained why they chose the market for their first retail location: “What place has the most history, the most authenticity when it comes to bagel making, when it comes to selling bagels? It’s only the Lower East Side and it’s at the Essex Street Market where in the 1940’s (street) vendors were taken from the streets and placed into the market. We had to be a part of it…This is a New York vision. We have to be a part of this market as our first location to identify consumers, to identify a retail location, and to build community outreach.” Davidovich Bakery is located on the northern end of the market with a seating area and options ranging from sandwiches, muffins, and bagels to coffee, and opened up its second retail location at Chelsea Market last Monday, January 18th.
Tucked into a charming glass-enclosed stall at the back of Essex Street Market, Pain D’Avignon is a haven for bread lovers with golden breads, rolls, and croissants, all of which are made by hand daily at the company’s bakery in Long Island City, Queens. While we were giving tours at the market in the fall, I always looked forward to picking up a loaf of bread on Friday evening to enjoy throughout the weekend.
Founded in 1992, the company was originally started by four friends who had fled conflict in the Former Yugoslavia and settled in Massachusetts. After being in the United States for a while, they missed the delicious European-style breads that they grew up with and saw a business opportunity in the American marketplace. With no formal training as bakers, they set to work trying to recreate those flavors and textures and through trial and error and using their tastebuds, they developed and refined recipes that reminded them of home and started a wholesale baking company.
In 2000, two of the original four founders, Uliks Fehmiu and Bane Stamenkovic, moved to New York City and, along with their local friend Tole Zurovac, opened an off-shoot of the business in Long Island City, Queens. As they enter their 16th year in the city, they’ve grown to a staff of 70 bakers at different skill levels and 4 pastry chefs and bake thousands of bread, rolls, and pastry items at their 24/7 facility in Queens. Their flagship retail location opened at the Essex Street Market in 2010 followed by a second location at The Plaza Food Hall, located in Midtown at 5th Avenue and Central Park South in The Plaza Hotel.
It may not be apparent to the first-time visitor to the Essex Street Market, but many of the businesses buy from one another forming their own food ecosystem and influencing each other’s flavors and recipes. Pain D’Avignon is no exception. Fellow Essex Street Market vendor, Saxelby Cheesemongers, buys bread from Pain D’Avignon for the grilled cheese sandwiches they serve from their market stall while Pain D’Avignon purchases cheese from Saxelby’s for the sandwiches they sell at Pain D’Avignon’s location in The Plaza Food Hall.
Stay in tuned in the coming weeks for the the second blog of this two-part series that will introduce businesses that bake on-site at the Brooklyn’s Moore Street Market and Harlem’s La Marqueta.