Hot bread rolls from a barrow, klezmer players fiddling down the street, and a lechayim with honey cake to toast the occasion. A journey through the history of one of London’s bakery landmarks took place recently, when the Grodzinski family celebrated the 75th anniversary of its bakery shop in Stamford Hill.
The backdrop of the celebration was an exhibition of an archive of photos and papers assembled by Mr Jonathan Grodzinski, proprietor of the 117-year-old chain, which now has four shops. “There’s not more than a handful, at most, of bakeries in London that have been trading for 75 years in the same location,” notes Mr Joni, as he is known to staff and clients.
In 1888, immigrants Harris and Judith Grodzinski arrived in England, fleeing Czarist persecution. Judith set to work making bilkelech (sweet rolls) in a rented bakery, and Harris took them to market each morning. Business flourished, and the couple soon opened their own bakery in the East End, the heart of Jewish settlement in the late 19th-century England.
When Harris Grodzinski died, aged 54, his 18-year-old son Abie inherited the bakery. In 1908, Abie’s wife, Bertha Jeidel joined him to help build the business. But just before their 10th wedding anniversary, the flu epidemic struck Abie, leaving Bertha a widow, with five young children and a bustling business to oversee. For more than a decade, she ensured the bakery’s trade and reputation grew.
In 1930, her two eldest children, Harry and Ruby, began sharing responsibility for the business, and they convinced Bertha to move out of the East End to the suburbs. On November 10, 1930, Bertha opened Grodzinski’s second establishment in Stamford Hill.
By the time war broke out in 1939, Grodzinski had six shops in north London. One generation later, as Harry’s and Ruby’s children began to take their place in the family firm, Grodzinski was a well-established institution in the Jewish community, with 24 shops throughout London.
The shop and main bakery at Dunsmure Road were expanded and modernised in the early ’60s, and Grodzinski’s patisserie was moved to Stamford Hill, alongside the bread and confectionery departments. While the bakery turned out Grodzinski’s rye breads, fruit cake and sweet plaited challahs, the patisserie made the kosher, cream-filled millefeuilles and sachertortes.
In 1991, however, the firm found itself in financial difficulties and went into liquidation.
But eight of the shops were subsequently bought back by two sections of the family – M&D Grodzinski and J Grodzinski and Daughters – and trade as separate businesses under the Grodzinski’s name. Now, a new generation has joined her parents at the helm of four of those shops; 23-year-old Tova Grodzinski, great-great-granddaughter of Harris and Judith, recently took over management of the Grodzinski shop in Edgware.