ON THE SURFACE, business appears to be good in the city's Overbrook Park neighborhood, close to where Haverford Avenue crosses City Avenue.

Here, kosher food is as plentiful as fast food. As consumers shop for cellphones and clothing, groceries and beauty supplies, they see no hint of the violent incident that struck this urban strip last August.

Step inside Best Cake Kosher Bakery, and just about the only reminder of the terror is a circular scar on the throat of owner Zivka "Ziza" Djordjevic.

Two robbers ambushed the shop on the morning of Aug. 7, and shot Djordjevic, 56, who emigrated from the former Yugoslavia in 1989 and has owned the shop since 2004. She nearly died.

"They took about $50 or $60, that's all I had," Djordjevic recalled matter-of-factly. "Then, the tall one said to the short one, 'Just shoot the b----.' I said, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.' Then I just heard, 'BAM!' "

Although the robbers' faces were covered, she said, "I could tell that they were young because their pants were hanging halfway down." The one who shot her, she said, held his pants with one hand and the gun in the other.

The bullet coursed through her windpipe and lodged near her spine. Ziza - as she is known by friends and regular customers - spent three weeks in the hospital, needing a feeding tube and a neck brace until November.

While doctors and relatives helped her recover, local synagogues - among her most loyal customers - helped her stay afloat financially until she could work again.

Although the assailants are still on the loose, Djordjevic felt determined enough to reopen Best Cake on Dec. 5. Just in time for Hanukkah, noted Djordjevic - who is not Jewish but has bonded with her Jewish customers, who compose a large slice of her clientele.

She was overwhelmed by the support she received when she was fighting for her life - and when she returned to the shop.

"I was just crying at how everyone was welcoming me and saying how they were praying for me and my health. That was heartbreaking for me. I didn't even know that many people knew me."

Now that Djordjevic is back, amid sacks of flour and sugar and the display cases of freshly baked rugelach, strudel and challah, is something new - but not on the menu.

It's a .22-caliber handgun, which the Northeast resident's ex-husband is teaching her how to handle.

"I'm kind of getting ready now," Djordjevic said, with a faint smile. "So, now it's going to be life or death. Them or me. Because I've been twice through this. A third time it is not going to be."

That other time was in January 2015 when gunmen in hoodies ran into the bakery before going out the back door without taking anything. She suspects it was the pair who struck in August.

'She's like my mom'

The morning Djordjevic was shot, she was alone having a smoke in the back room of the bakery she'd bought with a home-equity loan in 2004.

It was 6 a.m. The back door was open, the screen door closed. The gunmen kicked their way in. Both wore masks. One kept a gun on her while the other rummaged around the pots and pans, mixers and dry goods.

After she emptied her pockets, one man shot her. Djordjevic recalls hitting her head on the sink as she fell to the floor. The gunmen fled and she figured she was going to bleed to death.

"I could feel my throat filling up with blood. I was trying not to cough out," she said.

She knew she had to get up. Her first employee wasn't to arrive until 8 a.m. So, she used the sink to pull herself off the floor, pressed a towel against her bleeding throat, then struggled to the phone to dial 9-1-1.

Police officers put her in the backseat of a squad car and raced to Penn Presbyterian Medical Center.

Meanwhile, the hovering helicopters and screaming police sirens alerted Overbrook Park of the trouble.

John Evans was wondering why the choppers were there when he arrived at work and found the front door locked. Around the back of the bakery he saw the detectives, who questioned him and took him through the shop to determine if anything was missing.

"I was hurt, I was tore up," said Evans, 46, who has worked for Djordjevic for seven years. "She's like my mom."

Nurit Erez, 40, who owns Shalom Pizza around the corner from the bakery with her husband, Guy, said she was not surprised that her friend returned to work so soon after being shot.

"I know she's a strong woman. . . . You gotta do what you gotta do."

Robert Bender, owner of the kosher R&R Produce and Fish market, in the shopping plaza across Haverford from Best Cake, said he's not surprised that Djordjevic has returned to work - with a gun.

"I think she's got a lot of nerve," said Bender, who's been in business 34 years. "She's brave and she's strong. A lot of people wouldn't be able to do that. I don't know if I'd be the one to carry a gun, but I don't blame her."

Finding and arresting the assailants has been hampered because Djordjevic did not see their faces and because they left little forensic evidence behind. Cameras on nearby businesses did not capture their images, said police Lt. John Walker of Southwest Detectives. He urged tipsters to call 215-686-TIPS.

"Any piece of information they have, as minor as they may think it is, is a piece of the puzzle we could use to solve this," said Walker, who added that the crime has touched investigators.

"It broke the hearts of my detectives, it broke my heart to see this happen to this lady who was just trying to do the right thing," he said. "After getting shot, she still wants to bake for the community. It's a phenomenal story. This lady deserves justice."

Djordjevic, who learned how to bake while working at Lipkin's Bakery in the Northeast for 15 years, said she tries not to think about the fact that the gunmen have not been caught. To do so would only be upsetting. But she has made changes.

In addition to arming herself, she has someone in the bakery with her at all times, has shortened her hours and is working on getting cameras installed out back and in the room where her life was almost taken.

She's planning for the long haul.

"I'm still young, I want to work," she said. "I want to pay off my mortgages, pay off my bills. I still have a long way to go, at least 62. And thank God, doctor says I'm healthy. I'm strong."



On Twitter: @MensahDean