I moved to New York from South Carolina in 1962 and got a job peeling onions at New York Hospital. But very quickly I started helping out in the hospital’s bakery. I liked it so much that I decided to take a six-month baking course. I have been baking ever since.
I spent 30 years baking at the hospital. Then I went on the West side near Colombia and open my first bakery. In 2001 I opened this location in Harlem.
IT’S ALL BUTTER
I found the rugelach recipe in 1963 in a newspaper. But I changed it a lot. I took some of the ingredients out and replaced others. You know there was sour cream in the original recipe, but I replaced it with butter. My recipe is all butter! And people love it. On weekends, from Friday to Sunday, we make between 800 and 1000 rugelach a day.
MY CUSTOMERS ARE COMING FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD
Everybody knows me in the neighborhood. But my customers are coming from all over. I have just sent three dozen rugelach to Casablanca Morocco!
I used to make the Honey Cake and Challah bread but I don’t make them anymore. There is not a lot of money in bread anyway and you find everything in stores now. It’s all about mass production so it doesn’t make sense for me to do it. And people don’t buy them anyway… But I can make anything Jewish.
When I first started I used to be at the bakery at 4am. Now it’s my son coming in early so I am not getting here before 6 am. Even though we don’t open before 10am. I pulled back because you know… now I am an old man and I can’t do what I used to do. I am trying to teach my son how to do it but he doesn’t like it that much. He is here every day but he doesn’t love it the way I do.
Now I am thinking about going South to my hometown and open a bakery. But since I can’t do it anymore, I want to show people how to do it. Let the kids do it. I want to teach them. With the same recipes.
Alvin Lee Smalls, owner of Lee Lee’s Baked Goods on W. 118th St. and Frederick Douglass Blvd.