Yael Cooperman and Ran Betite moved to Philadelphia from Tel Aviv last fall so she could take a medical residency and he could continue his mechanical-engineering career. They settled in a Queen Village rowhouse with their 18-month-old son, Lev, and were preparing for the birth of their second child.
What they couldn’t have prepared for was the pandemic. The baby, a boy they named Rafael, arrived in April as expected, but everything else — Cooperman’s medical licensing exam, Betite’s green-card hearing, life in general — was delayed, disrupted, or put on hold.
Betite had made bread for friends in college and once took a baking class while on a Paris vacation with Cooperman. In Philly, he began making sourdough, and once the pandemic hit he made more.
He honed his skills by watching wall-to-wall bread-making videos on YouTube. Soon, Betite was baking so much and so often that the couple regularly gave away fresh loaves via social media.
“I told him, ‘Please turn off that oven — it’s so hot I can’t stand it, and get this bread out of my house,’” Cooperman, 33, recalled.
“I said, ‘Maybe you should open a bakery.’”
Six months later, Betite launched Metuka Freshly Baked. A Hebrew word that means “sweetie,” Metuka is named in honor of a Tel Aviv woman, long deceased, whose former apartment the couple rented after renovating it themselves, by hand. The pair make a great team.
“I’m a people person," Cooperman said. "And my husband is a DIY genius.”
Indeed: In six months Betite has graduated from YouTube binges and overheating the house to baking about 120 loaves a day in a commercial kitchen on North Broad Street, where he rents space. “We were lucky,” Betite said. “It has a steam oven for sourdough.”
The couple distributes bread, babka, challah, muffins, and other goods at local farmers markets and pop-up markets as well as online. They’ve been looking for retail space in Queen Village, too.
“It really started because, where we come from, there’s good bread on every corner, but here it was hard to find," said Betite, 34. "So I began making more and trying to get better at it. And we noticed that a lot of people in Philadelphia want good bread.”
That certainly was the case on the morning before Yom Kippur. The couple set out a festive display of fresh-baked bounty on a stand outside Cohen and Co. Hardware and Home Goods on Passyunk Avenue just off South Street. They fulfilled preorders and served walk-up customers. Despite the masks and the social distancing, there was plenty of kibitzing. Many online customers had never met the baker or his wife in person.
“This is what Philly is all about,” said Elly Shapiro, 76, a retired registered nurse who came by to pick up an order of challah. “It’s fabulous. It gives them a chance to get known, and it gives Cohen and Co., a little boost. And," she added, "we get to give them a virtual hug.”
Said store owner Mitchell Cohen: “Hopefully this pop-up market is the start of a long relationship between our fourth-generation hardware store and this new bread business. The bottom line is, it’s great for the neighborhood.”
Great for selling bread, too: Dozens of everything at the Metuka stand was gone in two hours.
“To be good, you have to bake a lot,” Betite said. “And no matter how good you are, you’re going to keep failing. You have to love the process, including the failing.”
Cooperman’s exams have been rescheduled, and in the meantime, she’s writing patient-oriented materials for Ro, a health-care company. And her husband believes he may have found a new career path.
“I love baking bread,” Betite said. “The truth is, I feel happier and have more satisfaction serving the people and getting their reaction than when I was working as an engineer.”