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Two Muslim men keep Jewish tradition alive in Brooklyn

Story highlights

  • Two Pakistani Muslims keep a kosher bakery open
  • The shop specializes in bialys
  • They're a lighter, softer cousin to the bagel, traditionally made with onion sprinkled on top
  • Another family ran the business for 91 years

Two Pakistani Muslims in Brooklyn are now running the oldest bialy store in the city, and keeping it kosher.

Zafaryab Ali and his business partner, Peerada Shah, were shocked on hearing through a friend that Coney Island Bialys and Bagels was closing. Ali had worked at the store for 10 years in the 1990s and remembers it always being crowded, with lines out the door and people waiting up to half an hour for fresh bialys. So Ali and Shah bought the store to keep the 91-year business alive.

Bialys are a lighter, softer cousin to the bagel, traditionally made with onion sprinkled on top.

"I know bagels and my partner knows management," Ali said. "If we work hard and pay attention, we'll build up and bring more customers in."

Ali and Shah are keeping everything the same -- ingredients, equipment, recipes -- all used when it was a kosher store under Jewish management. Ali is now on the hunt for a rabbi to come and give the store an official kosher certification.

They even have some of the same staff, like Ernie Devivo, a semi-retired baker who is still helping out around the shop.

"I'm glad we opened up again," Devivo said. "It's good for everybody."

Asked about seeing the store open again, after a short closure, one customer said, "It's good. It's beautiful."

According to the bakery's website, Coney Island Bialys Bakers Co. was started in 1920 by Morris Rosenzweig, who brought the bialy recipe with him from Poland. The family continued to make hand-rolled, traditional bialys for 91 years. The business passed to Rosenzweig's son Don and then to his son, Steve Ross, who began wholesaling the bialys as well, shipping them across the country. Then in August, Steve Ross decided to close.

"My son was going to take over, but with the area changing and business slowing down and the economy doing a double take on the recession, it wasn't worth keeping at that point," Ross said.

Ali and Shah reopened shop In mid-September, and say that business has been going well.

Ross is glad to see his family's store living on.

"I've got no problem whether they're black, white, purple, green, yellow. They came in, wanted to keep the business open and wanted to keep the industry going. ... I'm glad it's still there. I'm happy."

And Coney Island Bialys and Bagels is still a family business, with Ali, his brother and his nephew all working to keep its traditions alive.

"We're sticking with kosher," Ali said.