Meir Jacobs, better known as Micky, has been making rye bread, challah, Kaiser rolls, bagels and strudel at the same Farmers Market location for the last 35 years and at 86, the Hungarian immigrant isn't about to break the routine.
"Nobody tells me to do it," he said last week, amid the clatter of his seven-day-a-week operation. "I don't have to work if I don't want to. "I just enjoy it. I don't want to give up."
Although Jacobs remains a constant, his bakery has seen major changes. It's now part of Breadworks, a wholesale artisan breadmaker that's owned by Los Angeles-based SMS Foods Inc. Last year, Jacobs sold his company, which included the wholesale portion of Brown's Wilshire Bakery. The Brown's retail store closed about a month ago.
Breadwork's 31-year-old president, Seth Silverman, believes that combining Breadworks' artisan specialties with Brown's wholesale business will help grow revenues 20 percent annually. He's eying other Jewish bakeries with aging owners who have a strong wholesale customer base but no succession plan. "There is a lot of opportunity (in) more of the older Jewish bakeries, where their kids don't really want to do it," said Silverman.
It's been a tough road for many of the area's Jewish bakeries, having to withstand fad diets, large chain competitors and, more recently, the trendy set.
To satisfy the high-end demand, French and New York bakeries are starting to dot the L.A. landscape. Then there are the mega-supermarkets: A recent survey by the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association found that 50 percent consumers shop for bakery goods at in-store bakeries once a week or more.
But Jacobs isn't alone in holding onto the old ways. Alex Zhevelev, a Russian immigrant who has worked in various jobs since coming to this country 10 years ago, recently bought the Beverlywood Bakery on Pico Boulevard.
Zhevelev said he and a partner will only make minor changes to the 60-year-old bakery, but most things will stay the same, with staples like rugalach (a crescent-shaped Jewish cookie), babka (a coffee cake-like pastry) and mondel bread (similar to biscotti).
"These recipes have been sold for hundreds of years," said Zhevelev. "It is not like some smart guy five years ago said, 'Oh, let's do this mondel bread.'" But Zhevelev recently bought some new neon, and the Beverlywood sign is now lit for the first time in decades.
Jacobs isn't sure the newer entrants can do what he's done: keep going after nearly 70 years in the business. He said many of them have little understanding of the industry. "People take big chances to buy bakeries, but they are not bakers," he said.
Jacobs himself had middle-class parents who hadn't expected their son to go into baking (at the time a trade considered lower-class). But eventually, his father signed him up for a two-year apprenticeship at a Budapest bakery.
He wasn't paid and slept above the bakery's oven (using flour sacks for his bedding). After those two years, he passed a test that scored him on his ability to make about 100 bakery items and went to work at another bakery in Budapest.
After settling in L.A. in 1958, he found it hard to get a job as a baker because he wasn't a member of the union. His wife helped make ends meet by working as a dressmaker in Beverly Hills.
Finally, Jacobs got hired to clean a Fairfax Avenue bakery on Saturdays. Though the bakery claimed to be kosher meaning no one should work at it on the Sabbath he would mop the floors while the windows were closed so no one could see. After saving money from that and another bakery job, he bought Brown's over 35 years ago and kept the name of the previous owners.
Today, all that's left of the Brown's store is its fa & #231;ade. But Silverman is betting that the wholesale business Jacobs built has growth potential, and Jacobs isn't leaving his bread behind, like other Jewish bakers have.
"People get older, and not everybody is so meshugeneh like me. Every human being thinks different," he said. "You see me here everyday."
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