by Sandy Smith
When the Lipkin family started their kosher bakery at Fourth and McKean streets many decades ago, the neighborhood surrounding it was 90 percent Jewish.
By the time Mitch Lipkin moved it to Northeast Philly’s Rhawnhurst section in 1975, most of those Jews had moved elsewhere.
“I think Mitch figured that only Jews would eat their products, so he moved it up to the Northeast, which was heavily Jewish then,” said Lipkin’s current owner, Steven Nawalany.
Nawalany had been a Lipkin’s customer for 50 years, and he liked it so much, he bought it from Mitch in 2016. Now he’s returning the bakery to its South Philly roots because he discovered to his delight that Mitch Lipkin was wrong: you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy kosher baked goods.
“Lipkin’s is still Jewish, but not like it used to be,” Nawalany said. “We get a lot of Muslim customers because it’s also halal – there’s no meat anywhere in our facility; we don’t even let the employees bring any in. And since we keep it kosher, of course there’s no pork.”
If anything, Lipkin’s has become even more popular among non-Jews, who have also made their way up to Rhawnhurst. The bakery continues to expand its offerings of traditional Jewish baked goods in response to customer demand.
The bakery is famous for its knishes, which can be found throughout and beyond the Philadelphia area. “If you see knishes anywhere in Philadelphia, they’re made by us,” Nawalany said. “We even ship them up to New York because people there prefer them to the New York City ones. We make them the way they’re supposed to be made – we bake them and use stretched dough.
“A lot of [our customers] don’t know what knishes are when they first try them,” he continued. “My staff tell them they’re like Jewish Hot Pockets.”
They now come in 14 different varieties, including kasha, mixed vegetable, pizza, cheese and cherry cheese. White pizza and lox-and-cream-cheese varieties are in the works.
Similarly, Lipkin’s now makes 17 different varieties of rugelach, the bite-sized cookies made with cream-cheese dough wrapped around a filling. The bakery originally made four flavors. Now, “People ask us on our Facebook page, ‘Can you make this flavor?’ And we do it. We’re very accommodating,” Nawalany says.
The bakery has also increased its hammentaschen offerings from 4 to 8, and its petits fours offerings have exploded: “We now have 28 different flavors. It’s like Baskin-Robbins.”The bakery’s rye bread is the genuine article – “we still use the mother [starter dough] we had at 4th and McKean. We refresh it every day.”
Nawalany said the neighbors enthusiastically pitched in to bring Lipkin’s back to South Philly. “A neighbor across the street from me went around and collected 200 signatures in support of our zoning variance,” he said.
Production will remain at the Rhawnhurst location, but baked goods will be delivered daily to the new store in Whitman.