Congregation Beth Am Israel's hazzan, Harold Messinger, laments the closing of Hesh’s Bakery and their signature chocolate chip loaf that he will never devour again.
A few weeks ago, my brother came to town to help celebrate our mother’s birthday.
I informed him that we would be going the next morning to Hesh’s Bakery for their signature chocolate chip loaf, without which my mother’s party simply would not be complete. We drove the 45 minutes from Merion Station to Hesh’s Castor Avenue location and, to our dismay, were greeted by a handwritten sign in the window that read: “We will be closed from December 25th and will re-open January 10.”
Dejected, we headed back to the ’burbs, comforted just a bit by the knowledge that at some point, for some birthday party or Bar Mitzvah or just because, we would get back to Hesh’s. We didn’t know that this would be our last trip, that only two weeks later Hesh’s would announce via store window and website that they had closed their doors forever.
Judging by the outpouring of emotional Facebook posts, it is clear that my family is not alone in considering Hesh’s Bakery one of the family. More specifically, it was Hesh’s chocolate chip loaf that kept us coming back for more. It was a miracle, that cake: so many, many chocolate chips crammed into a lighter-than-air loaf that was as good in my mind’s eye as it was in real life. But packed into that temporary deliciousness (it never lasted long; in our family, it was known simply as “The Disappearing Cake”) was something more than just eggs, flour, sugar and a bajillion chocolate chips. Hesh’s sifted in a healthy measure of love — consistently and deliciously, from the time I was a kid until the time my own kids were old enough to appreciate a good piece of cake.
Hesh’s website reads: “Since 1959, Hesh’s Bakery has been baking kosher products for families and synagogues in the Greater Philadelphia region. Today’s bakery is run by the third generation of bakers who maintain the same traditional recipes that have pleased families in the region for almost 50 years.”
My grandparents lived close to Hesh’s, and back in the ’70s, when Kiddie City ruled Roosevelt Boulevard, we would regularly stop into the bakery for challah, at least two chocolate chip loafs and maybe a rye bread. As a kid, you always knew that you weren’t leaving empty-handed. You were guaranteed at least one melt-in-your mouth cookie: something with neon-blue sprinkles or dark chocolate sprinkles or the most magical of all, the multicolored sprinkled cookie.
We would also pick up cupcakes, donuts and my mother’s favorite, prune danish. Hesh’s ruled in a world before words like “vegan” and “gluten-free” and “healthy” reigned supreme. There was no guilt at Hesh’s — it was all throwback, old school, vintage, never updated, take it or leave it. It was comfort food to the max, and it was family, and that it made it OK.
When my brother and I returned empty-handed from Hesh’s a few weeks back, no one even tried to hide their disappointment. Hesh’s closing is anything but trivial and unimportant, at least to me and many others who were raised on their cakes, cookies and breads.
And so I raise my empty, crumb-filled plate to Hesh’s: You will be missed by many, and should it ever be possible to obtain the recipe for that beloved disappearing cake, well, my brother’s bakery in Los Angeles would be glad to carry on the tradition!
Harold Messinger is the hazzan at Congregation Beth Am Israel in Penn Valley.