One of New York City’s oldest Jewish bakeries has been rescued from closure by an unlikely source: a pair of Muslim cab drivers who promise to keep it kosher.
Peerzada Shah and Zafaryab Ali recently took ownership of the Coney Island Bialys and Bagels, a landmark fixture anchored at 2350 Coney Island Avenue for 91 years.
The bakery was about to shutter in September when Ali, a former staffer, learned of its demise and decided to save it — keeping it in the same spirit of its original owner, Morris Rosenzweig, a Jewish immigrant from Bialystok, Poland, who founded the shop in 1920.
The story was first reported by The Jewish Daily Forward.
Ali said he purchased the business six weeks ago for an amount he would not disclose.
The partners have been busy ever seen since.
“It’s the same bialys, but I don't have time to talk right now, we're busy,” Shah said by phone on Friday. “I have to make sure customers are taken care of, because they come first.”
"Many people are here in line, cameras are rolling, TV is calling for me now," Ali said. "It is a good day, a busy day."
Just weeks ahead of the purchase, the recession and continued financial difficulties had pushed Rosenzweig's grandson, Steve Ross, to call it quits.
Joseph Jackson, a bakery employee for 30 years, recalled his boss’s tough call.
“He said he was not pulling enough and couldn’t do anymore,” Jackson said, adding “I took it real bad.”
Jackson said he was retiring this year, but planned to stay on to help the new owners grow their business.
"The two men are very, very good-natured, well-intentioned and just good people," Jackson said. "They want to keep the bakery kosher and I want to help them succeed."
Shah and Ali grew up in Pakistan and met in New York City while they were working as cab drivers.
Ali worked at the bialy shop for a decade and when he learned of Ross'sdecision to call it quits, he called Shah. Shah attended a culinary arts school in Manhattan and the men had been roommates at one time.
Ali said the men tasted their first bite of a bagel from the bakery more than a decade ago.
Ali said he and his partner vow to use the same recipes and shop's kosher-certified equipment. They'll also serve the shop's popular kosher menu.
Most of the staff has stayed on to usher in the bakery's next chapter.
"We all worked together for many, many years and the bakery owner is a very, very good man," Ali said. "We want to make this business as the same, a good business."