Restaurants in New York have been hit hard by the pandemic, despite the fact that eateries can remain open for takeout and delivery. Some of them have laid off their staff, others decided to temporarily close, yet support their employees. One of those places that was paying all their workers while remaining closed was B&H Kosher Dairy Restaurant in the East Village. In exciting news, tomorrow May 16th, the beloved Second Avenue institution will re-open again for takeout and delivery from 9 AM to 9 PM, six days a week. The restaurant is initially taking orders by phone, and payments are by cash only, but will be adding a delivery app and begin accepting credit cards in the next few days. Please watch their Instagram and Facebook pages for updates
Photo by Gerrit Sievert
B&H celebrated it 80th birthday in 2018, and its welcoming old-time spirit as well as phenomenal menu remain the same: Eastern European Jewish comfort food is being served and stories being told in a loving atmosphere of this tiny neighborhood gem. “They preserve a slice of New York that has vanished for the most part,” wrote a fan who nominated the restaurant for the Village Award in 2017, which it eventually received. The Village Awards presented by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation recognize the very special people, places, businesses, and organizations that make a significant contribution to the quality of life in Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo.
Bogusia and a pot of matzo balls. Photo by Andy Reynolds/B&H Dairy
When it first opened in 1938 by Abie Bergson and Jack Heller, who left not long after and a new partner Sol Hausman stepped in (still B&H), this part of Second Avenue was widely known as The Jewish Rialto or the Yiddish Broadway. B&H was often frequented by Molly Picon and other stars of Yiddish theatre. The whole neighborhood has profoundly changed since, and the place itself changed the owners several times, but “actors and actresses, the hippies, the yippies, the beatniks, [and] the bohemians” remained among the regulars. One customer said that Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin used to love it there too. Up until this day, the restaurant has the same vibe, and to the B&H family of employees, regulars and neighborhood friends belongs now for example Chloë Sevigny.
Ola, Fawzy’s wife and co-owner, with Mike. Photo by Andy Reynolds/B&H Dairy
The current owners of B&H Kosher Restaurant are Aleksandra (Ola) and Fawzy Abdelwahed. Fawzy bought this place in 2003, and Ola stepped in two years later. Both of them are immigrants (from Poland and Egypt), worked across of each other, fell in love, and the rest is (New York) history. With hard work, dedication and warm approach the couple immediately built a loyal customer base. Their customers span multiple generations, they love them and keep coming back; some of them have their own unique B&H dish made especially for them and even named after them. A lot of customers know each other. The business Ola and Fawzy are running embraces the neighborhood’s diversity: Jewish kosher food is cooked and served by Poles, Arabs and Latinos, and the customers are of all walks of life. What can possibly be more New York than this?
The restaurant has seven long-term employees; some of them for more than 20 years. Leo, originally from Mexico, has been with the B&H team for 30 years now. Bogusia, originally from Poland, “The Queen of the Kitchen”, for 14 years. She is the “Mistress” of B&H homemade favorites – the soups, pierogi, cabbage rolls, latkes, knishes, and many others. Hugo makes the famous challah (por favor), macaroni and cheese, and blintzes. Bernardo prepares the tuna salad, smoked whitefish salad and egg salad. Rafaelo is the guy behind the delicious chocolate chip cookies. Besides the Jewish-Polish-Ukrainian soul food the place offers diner’s essentials like omelets, pancakes, rice pudding, grilled cheese, sandwiches, etc. Lately, B&H has been featured in The Dairy Restaurant by cartoonist Ben Katchor, an illustrated history of dairy restaurants, in which he is examining the role they played in larger community.
One of B&H’s famous “CHALLAH! por favor” T-shirts, literally hot off the press at Works In Progress, the nonprofit that prints our shirts over on E. 4th Street. Photo by Andy Reynolds/B&H Dairy.
The pandemic outbreak is not the very first challenge Abdelwaheds have faced. The Second Avenue gas explosion in 2015 which destroyed three nearby buildings and claimed the lives of two resulted in a long-term shutdown of gas and closure of the space for five months. Still, the current situation proves different: “After the fire, we were tied up with city government red tape and chasing down inspectors for various approvals, but at least we had some sense of progress. With the pandemic, we have less control and are relying on the governor and mayor and city officials for guidance and permission to reopen. We’re also dealing with the constant fear and stress of living with the pandemic”, Fawzy shared with Untapped New York.
B&H exterior with employees, April 2020. Behind Ola (front), Bogusia, Leo, Bernardo, Rafaelo, and Hugo. Photo courtesy of B&H Dairy (this photo was taken just after Ola paid the employees with money raised by the GoFundMe campaign.
On Facebook you can see the recent video of Ola passing out cash envelopes to employees. The ongoing GoFundMe campaign helped a great deal to make this happen. Ola and Fawzy are very grateful for the donations, which have topped $28,000, the support and love from the whole B&H community, and have missing B&H deeply. At the outset of the pandemic, they decided not to be open for takeout in an overabundance of caution for their employees and customers. But they have long been planning to re-open for take-out and delivery by summer with proper precautions. These include, according to Fawzy, “removing tables to make room for pick-up customers to be safely distanced at the counter, tape marking where to stand, a shield across the counter.”
Photo by Andy Reynolds/B&H Dairy.
And, this is Fawzy’s message that goes out to all customers, friends and fans: “B&H is a very special place. We consider our customers family and we know our customers feel the same. We have second and third generation customers who’ve been eating at B&H since the 1950s. We love and miss our B&H family dearly and look forward to seeing your happy faces across our counter…Thank you to everyone for your kind words and donations to our GoFundMe campaign. Challah! por favor!”
Places like B&H are the foundation of the neighborhood, yet they are little by little vanishing. You can continue to help Ola and Fawzy to stay afloat by supporting the GoFundMe or ordering food starting tomorrow! The GoFundMe campaign will continue until they are able to open again.
Next, read about the closing of Gem Spa in the East Village.