Almost a hundred years ago, an enterprising rabbi from Eastern Europe decided there must be an easier way to sell his wife’s homemade knishes than dragging them up and down the boardwalk at Coney Island. Yonah Shimmel crossed the Williamsburg Bridge and opened his eponymous knish shop on Houston between Eldridge and Forsyth streets.
Five generations later, the store, run by the same family, has expanded to sell latkes, blintzes, borscht, and other fare for the Jewish diaspora. With the creaky dumbwaiter that is still used to pull up baked goods from the heavily manned minifactory below, and the off-color plastic cylinders filled to bursting with mismatched silverware, Yonah Shimmel Knish Bakery is a living connection to the past.
But now Yonah Shimmel’s progeny have crossed another bridge—into cyberspace. Knish seekers can visit Yonah Shimmel’s without the dubious aid of the F train, at yonahshimmel.com. Ellen Anistratov, a 30-year-old knish designer with a degree from FIT who works behind the counter, waitresses, answers the phone, busses, and handles the ascending dumbwaiter, decided to go online for the simplest of reasons; as she puts it, “Everyone else is.”
Along with feeding the Lower East Side and weekend bridge-and-tunnelers, Yonah Shimmel’s ships its wares all over the United States, as far away as California and Alaska. Anistratov believes going online will not just increase sales but will also bring the rich legacy of the store into households across the world.
The move to the Web was not an easy one. Anistratov’s father manages the store, and he is not one to readily embrace change. “He is a very old-fashioned man,” she sighs, catching her breath between orders. “He was told to do everything the old way, and that’s how he’s been doing it ever since we came here. Do you know how long it’s been that we’ve had a credit card machine? One year.” It took long months of persuasion for her to get her way. “Slowly he’s changing,” she says with a hint of victory in her voice.
Now that the site is up, the enterprising Anistratov wants to take the business to yet another level. “I’m looking to franchise. Maybe someone will read this and want to call me.”