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Homemade Goodies by Roz is closing, and the ranks of kosher bakeries dwindles

Roz Bratt's long-running bakery in Society Hill is being sold to a former apprentice, who does not plan to maintain its kosher status.

Roz Bratt finishing up a carrot cake at her shop, Homemade Goodies by Roz, on Fifth Street near Lombard.
Roz Bratt finishing up a carrot cake at her shop, Homemade Goodies by Roz, on Fifth Street near Lombard.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

This week’s batch of challah will be the last at Homemade Goodies by Roz.

Roz Bratt is closing her kosher bakery in Society Hill for walk-in customers after 24 years, effective Friday, May 28.

Bratt said she planned to sell the business at 510 S. Fifth St. to a former apprentice, who will not continue the shop’s kosher certification, which Bratt obtained about 12 years ago. She declined to identify the prospective buyer.

With occasional help from customer Ayisha Bolton, Bratt has been essentially a one-woman show for months as she works to satisfy her commercial accounts. “I simply cannot find a baker,” she said during a recent chat in the kitschy shop, with its quaint mismatched tables, chairs, and tchotchkes. Bakeries are feeling the pinch of a labor shortage in the food and restaurant sectors.

Homemade Goodies’ store hours had dwindled during the pandemic — when, in a further twist of fate, quarantined people began baking their own bread.

The shop has been open to the public only on Fridays, as the hours before the Jewish Sabbath are a traditional challah day. Homemade Goodies’ wholesale business will continue until the sale is completed.

The ranks of kosher bakeries in the region are dwindling, leaving stalwarts such as Roling’s in Elkins Park and Best Cake in Overbrook Park. The 2018 opening of an online bakery, I Want Moore in Manayunk, has raised some hopes.

Bratt, now 72, was a full-time bank teller in 1992 when she started baking commercially at night out of the Caloric wall oven in her kitchen in Northeast Philadelphia. When wholesale accounts piled up — Borders, Barnes & Noble, Cosi, the Walnut Street Theatre — her brother, a plumber, moved her bakery into the garage and she left the bank to bake full time.

“After a couple of years in the garage, my family took me for granted,” Bratt said with a chuckle. “You know, ‘Mom’s home. She can do the laundry, she can pick me up. She can do this.’ ” By 1997, Bratt needed a break. One day while visiting a coffee shop in Queen Village, she saw the vacancy sign on Fifth Street between South and Lombard and called the Realtor. They signed the agreement on the back of his business card.

With a retail counter and even a menu of light food, Homemade Goodies flourished. Then came the recession of 2008. “My accountant said, ‘Roz, you should close.’ And I couldn’t. It’s just not who I was,” she said. “The only thing I had not done was be kosher. In the beginning, I was asked to be a kosher bakery and I thought being closed on Saturday would hurt.”

The move to kosher, in 2009, saved the business. Rabbi Yochonon Goldman of the congregation B’nai Abraham Chabad embraced Homemade Goodies. “I remember saying to the rabbis, ‘I’m not going to screw up,’ ” Bratt said. “ ‘There’s somebody higher than me up there. I’m not going to do anything wrong. I am going to do it to the letter.’ I am an honest, respectful person.”

“The Jewish community started buying from me,” Bratt said. On the flip side, she said, “while there is a big Jewish community, I didn’t realize that a lot of Jewish religious women do their own baking.”

Turning the bakery kosher, following a set of guidelines overseen by rabbis, was also “a really good learning experience,” said Bratt, who is Jewish. “I learned a lot about Judaism. And I can go and speak about my religion.”

Homemade Goodies is overseen by Community Kashrus of Greater Philadelphia, known also as Keystone-K, one of a few organizations in the Philadelphia area that supervise kosher food establishments.

Congregations and synagogues follow the lead of organizations, which may interpret certain rules differently, such as operating on the Sabbath. (For example, Kaplan’s New Model Bakery in Northern Liberties, Lipkin’s Bakery in Northeast Philadelphia, Bagel Bistro in West Chester, and five Philadelphia-area bakeries of Giant Markets are overseen by Ko Kosher Service, which allows Sabbath sales.)

Many rules surrounding kosher food are less apparent than mixing of meat and dairy. Utensils, for example, must be kept from contact with nonkosher ingredients. Bratt cannot bring to work food that she has prepared at home, where she does not keep kosher.

To maintain its status with Keystone-K, Homemade Goodies uses the services of a mashgiach, or kosher supervisor. Every day before Bratt begins work, Charles Schnur lights the oven, cracks the shop’s whole eggs to look for blood spots, inspects ingredients, and deliberately burns some of the bread dough in a ritual described in the Torah.

“It makes him a part of the baking process, even though he is not baking,” Bratt said.

The bakery’s closing means “I have to find another place for my challah,” said Schnur, 43, whose day job is director of student conduct at Delaware County Community College. “I’m all about following rules,” he said with a laugh.

Schnur is self-taught in the kosher requirements, and Homemade Goodies by Roz is his sole mashgiach account. In five years, he has become proficient. He says he can crack and inspect 30 eggs in five minutes and usually can complete his work at the bakery in 10 minutes. Then he attends services at B’nai Abraham Chabad.

Homemade Goodies’ line, like that of many kosher bakeries, is considered pareve — that is, no milk or meat are used and as such can be eaten with any kind of meal.

Bratt, who said she was not sure what she would do next other than “unwind,” also acknowledged that age factored into her decision to sell.

“I’m going to be 73 in November,” she said. “I can’t do this like I did 20 years ago. I don’t have the stamina. I have carpal tunnel in one hand that I know has to be operated on, and it’s tingling right now. It hurts. And I keep going. I am not a quitter. I’ve got eight carrot cakes that I have to get iced before I leave for a wholesale account and we’re doing 50 large cookies for one gentleman.”