It all started with a pushcart in the Lower East Side in the late 1890s. The pushcart did so well that in short order, a Romanian immigrant, along with his cousin Joseph Berger, rented a small store on Houston Street.  A few years later, Schimmel left the business but his cousin Joseph continued on, moving the shop across the street.  That was in 1910, and the family has been running Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery at that location ever since.

Inside Yonah Schimmel’s – where the Knish rules

Make no mistake, Yonah Schimmel’s is a New York knish institution.  There is even a painting of the shop in the permanent collection of the Museum of the City of New York by Hedy Pagremanski.  The shop has also been the site of several movies including Woody Allen’s 2009 film, “Whatever Works.”

The dumb waiter, refrigerator, and patrons all co-exist in the main room

They specialize in the “Art of the Knish,” with variations on the original potato knish like broccoli, red cabbage, mushroom, sweet potato and many more.  They also have a traditional menu which includes potato latkes, noodle and potato kugel, soups, bagels and homemade borsht.  Of course, we can’t forget to mention their egg creams.

The kitchen is in the basement & knishes come up on the original dumb waiter

Much of this shop has never been renovated.  Above, you can see a freshly baked batch of knishes that slowly came up from the basement kitchen to the shop level by way of the original dumb waiter.  The business is currently owned and operated by Yonah’s great-nephew, Alex Wolfman, and his daughter Ellen Anistratov, who makes the knishes. They are proud to tell you that they are always baked – never fried.  If you noticed that the original signage above the front door reads “Shimmel,” Alex will tell you that was just a spelling mistake that they never bothered changing to “Schimmel.”

The counter and windows are continuously being replenished from the dumb waiter.

While we were there, the shop had a constant stream of patrons – both locals and tourists – who were delighted to hear that they can now order these plump potato delicacies online.

The shop’s walls are lined with photographs of famous patrons, such as Barbara Streisand and Woody Allen.

Yonah Schimmel is joined on East Houston Street by two other Lower East Side Jewish institutions: Katz’s Deli, which opened in 1888, and Russ & Daughters, another puchcart to shop treasure.  We will save them for another day.  Yonah Schimmel is located right next to the Sunshine Theater at 137 East Houston Street, near Forsyth Street.

For more about the Lower East Side, check out our history of Ludlow Street and our “tattoo history” of the Lower East Side.

Get in touch with the author @AFineLyne