Places that Matter

Kossar's Bialys

Kossar's Bialys, photo by Elena Martinez
Kossar's Bialys, photo by Elena Martinez
Oldest Bialy Bakery in the United States
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Kossar's Bialys (Kossar's Bialystoker Kuchen Bakery) is the oldest bialy bakery in the United States, and has been handcrafting its bialys, bulkas, pletzels and sesame sticks for over 75 years.  The bialy gets its name from the "Bialystoker Kuchen" of BiaƂystok, Poland (at the time under Russian occupation). Russian Jewish bakers who arrived in New York City in the late 19th century and early 20th century made an industry out of their recipe for the mainstay bread rolls baked in every household. Kossar's Bialys, known as Mirsky and Kossar's when Isadore Mirsky and Morris Kossar founded it in 1936, is one of the few remnants of what was once its own industry in New York City with its own union association, the Bialy Bakers Association, Inc.

Originally located on Clinton Street in Manhattan's Lower East Side, Kossar's Bialys moved to its current location at Grand and Essex Streets in the early 1960s after a union dispute and subsequent fire destroyed the building.  Kossar's Bialys was the starting point for former New York Times food critic Mimi Sheraton's research for her 2002 book, The Bialy Eaters: The Story of a Bread and a Lost World.

The process of making a bialy is a simple one, yet it is labor intensive. They use only the finest 100 lb. bags of quality high gluten flour and freshly ground onions. They use an old-fashioned brick oven to give you that authentic flavor.  They hand bake everything, with little automation. From the mixing of the dough, to the hand-crafting of the dough balls (tagelach) into the bialy's trademark shape, to the actual placement on the peels and into the brick oven and baking. This method ensures the proper texture that is often lost when placed on a conveyor. Aside from their unique recipe, not-so-good replicas of Kossar's bialys are the results of automatic tunnel ovens, freeze dried onions and preservatives.

Kossar's Bialys also makes bulkas (small hero sandwich size loaves), pletzels ("onion boards"—focaccia-like flatbreads smothered in onion and poppyseeds), sesame sticks and other baked goods.  In 1998 Kossar's started baking bagels, which Saveur magazine has called one of the best in NYC.  They hand roll the bagels using the finest ingredients available. Rather than substituting cheaper brown sugar, which eliminates any old-fashioned flavor and texture, they use real malt to bring authenticity back to the bagel. They allow the bagel to proof slowly over a 24-hour period and then they kettle boil each bagel prior to the final baking.

In 1998, Juda and Debra Engelmayer and Daniel and Malki Cohen purchased the bakery from Morris Kossar's son-in-law and daughter, Daniel and Gloria Kossar Scheinin.