September 9, 2004
Hungarian Baker Rises to Success
Since Meir Jacobs bought the J&T Bread Bin 34 years ago, the bakery hasn't changed much. Nestled in the center of the Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax, it retains its old-world charm -- the original glass showcases line the store's perimeter, and the original orange "Bread Bin" metal signs hang on both sides of the store. Handwritten yellow notes advertise the goods: chocolate danishes, raspberry hamantaschen, sprinkled cookies, lemon bars, macaroons and more.
It's the Hungarian treats that reveal the bakery's hidden history. The loaves of glazed cinnamon raisin bread, the apple squares and the three-flavored puff pastries called kalaches give meaning to Jacobs' words: "This is a very old-fashioned-style bakery."
An old-fashioned Hungarian bakery fashioned after its owner.
Born in Hungary 85 years ago, Jacobs spent his childhood attending yeshiva. At age 15, he dropped out of school to become a baker's apprentice. Three years of laboring for no money and sleeping on flour sacks in a storage room earned him his baker's certificate. Credentials in hand, Jacobs went to work for a bakery in Budapest.
What happened next remains a secret. Jacobs said his parents, brothers and one of his sisters died in the gas chambers. But he managed to evade the concentration camps. Jacobs refuses to talk about how he survived the Holocaust, citing the need to protect those who helped him.
A few years ago, Jacobs returned to Hungary. He visited the house where he grew up and was upset to find another family living there.
"My hate was so big," he said, that he could stand no more than four days in Hungary.
"Just get out," he told himself.
After World War II, Jacobs married and then moved to the United States in 1958 in search of "the good life," he said. He arrived in New York, which he found too cold. Days later, he moved to Miami, which he found too hot. He then hopped on a train to Los Angeles, which he found just right.
Jacobs got a job at a kosher bakery, which bent the rules for him, allowing him to work on Saturdays: "They closed the window shades so nobody could see."
After working "here and there" for a few years, Jacobs decided to buy his own bakery. With a business partner, Jacobs purchased the Brown's Wilshire Bakery & Deli. Three months later, he and his partner had a falling out, which resulted in Jacobs buying his partner out to become the sole owner of Brown's, which Jacobs still runs today.
The Brown's bakery was funneling bread and pastries to a shop in Farmers Market. Jacobs reasoned that if he owned the shop, he could increase sales of his baked goods.
"It's important to have a 'cold spot' when you have a bakery," he said. "You sell more that way."
So, Jacobs bought the store and renamed it J&T Bread Bin. The "T" stands for his daughter's married name, since she and her husband are partners in the business.
"I made it bigger, more professional," he said. "I brought in European-style Hungarian strudel, Jewish hamantaschen, mandel bread, challahs."
Today, regular customers flock to Bread Bin. They know Jacobs by his Hungarian name, Mike -- "pronounced like the Mickey in Mickey Mouse," said Ausencia, who has worked as Jacobs' assistant for four years.
Ninety-year-old Sally Goldfarb has been shopping at Bread Bin a few times a week, whenever she needs bread, for more than 15 years.
Another regular, Bob Leve, 53, calls Jacobs "part of Hollywood history." Leve likes the onion pockets, which, he said, "melt in your mouth."
Jon Guzick, 33, who used to go to the bakery as a child with his family, now comes back for the black-and-white cookies, which remind him of being a kid.
The personal connections are important for Jacobs. He likes to schmooze, he said. When customers share with him their personal problems, he tells them, "Nothing is forever. No good thing is forever; no bad thing is forever. The sun goes down; the sun comes up."
And with every sunrise, Jacobs goes to work. He arrives at Bread Bin at 7:30 a.m., seven days a week. He goes home to rest in the afternoon but returns to the market at 6 p.m. to determine what needs to be ordered for the next day. Then, he stops by Brown's bakery to place the orders. When will the 85-year-old retire?
"When the Messiah comes," he said with a smile.
J&T Bread Bin Bakery is located in spot 330 at Farmers Market on Third Street and Fairfax Avenue. For more information, call (323) 936-0785.
Meir Jacobs' Lokshen Kugel
Take one package of noodles, not too wide, not too narrow.
Put a little salt in water, and cook the noodles for 1/2 hour.
Strain the noodles from the water.
In a bowl, mix three eggs, two teaspoons of cinnamon, 1 cup of sugar and 1 1/2 sticks of margarine.
Put the noodles into the bowl, and mix the contents.
Take another bowl and spray it with cooking spray. Put some whole almonds on the bottom of the bowl. Then, pour the mix of noodles, eggs, cinnamon, sugar and margarine into the bowl.
Put the bowl in the oven.
Bake at 350F for one hour.