They said they came back for the knishes — everything else was icing on the cake.
Lipkin's Bakery in the Rhawnhurst section of Northeast Philadelphia reopened Sept. 8, after being shuttered for nearly five months following a fire, but just in time for the expected High Holiday rush.
In the early morning hours last Tuesday, customers stopped by sporadically, many offering a hearty "Welcome back!" to a longstanding neighborhood institution.
For employee Shanna Hernandez, the return to business meant more than just getting back to work — it meant greeting the many friends that she's made during her five years behind the counter.
Gene Sokolow of the Northeast dropped in to pick up a half-dozen potato knishes, two kaiser rolls and two hamantashen — one lemon-flavored, the other peach. "I've been coming here for years," he said as Hernandez wrapped up his baked goods.
Even non-Jewish customers ducked in to help celebrate the relaunch.
"They deserve it," said Len Zaffino, a Northeast resident who noted that he drops by weekly for the rye bread. "I was going to get a court order for them to reopen!"
Syma Cohen said that she'd been patronizing Lipkin's for 25 years, and she marked the return with a dozen potato knishes, although she was quick to point out that she's a big fan of the breads and cakes, too.
"I've missed you," she said warmly to Hernandez.
To hear owner Mitch Lipkin tell it, he missed the customers even more than they may have missed him.
"It's busier than I ever imagined," he proclaimed after a few days back on the job. "I just can't thank the customers enough for coming back."
According to Lipkin — who is a third-generation baker — the damage from the April 14 electrical fire meant installing "new floors, new walls, new everything," he reported, adding that "there was smoke damage to everything. Everything a fire can do, it did."
Recipes Remain the Same
One thing it didn't do, however, is alter the recipes, many of which were passed down to him by his father, Abraham, with whom he started the business.
The father-son duo debuted the kosher bakery in 1975.
"Anybody can bake a cake, but it's the attention to the detail" that makes it special, said the 60-year-old.
Lipkin recalled that he was hard at work behind the counter when his daughter — now a college student — took her first steps. Because of a rush of business at the time, he was unable to get away to see it firsthand. So the family brought her by so he could partake in the milestone.
Lipkin said that despite the joy of finally being back in business, what made him happiest was that all his employees had returned as well.
"This is my family," said Lipkin, gesturing to the staff and the newly filled racks of freshly baked goods. "I spend more time here than I do at home!"