"Wayne did a good job," Arnie said. "And you know something? He went back to being a kosher bakery, but he got to stay open on Saturdays. Because he's not Jewish!"

Phoenix has never been lousy with Jewish bakeries. You could write all their names on the back of a matzo and still have room left to list the Ten Plagues.

"There was never a lot of competition," Arnie said. "When we first opened there was one other Jewish bakery, Ronay's, at 32nd Street and Camelback."

Evie Carpenter

Before Ronay's, there was Sun Valley Bakery, located downtown and usually referred to as Phoenix's first-ever Jewish bakery. "My grandparents had Sun Valley in the late '40s," Gayle Shanks remembered. "People still talk about their rye bread."

(Shanks, by the way, did not go into the bakery business. She co-founded Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe — and coming soon to Phoenix.)

Sun Valley, which closed in 1962, begat Ronay's, owned by Shanks' aunt and uncle. Ronay's was shuttered after a 1998 fire and never reopened. After that, if you bought challah somewhere other than Karsh's, you were probably getting it from one of several come-and-gone Jewish delis around town.

In the late '70s, when bagels broke out as a fad food, there were bagel shops all over town, some of which offered the occasional rye bread or black-and-white cookie. When Karsh's was still on Central, a deli called New York Bagels (which later morphed into Munchabagel) opened up, but Arnie didn't lose much business.

"Enough of our customers knew the difference between a bagel shop that sold challah and a Jewish bakery," he offered. "They came back, for a lot of years."

Those days are gone. So, you buy your rye bread at some other bakery. Or the supermarket.

"But going into the corner bakery," Shanks moaned. "That's a piece of the culture that's going to be gone forever. People won't know what real rye bread tastes like, because they won't be able to buy one if they live in Arizona."

Passover is coming up, and Shanks is worried. "I noticed that Zabar's has macaroons. Is that what I have to do now? Order my Passover macaroons from New York City? Or, you know, do I make my own?"

It wasn't until she went away to college that Michelle Gardner realized how good her parents' bakery was. "I would go into a bagel shop and look for the rugelach," she said, laughing. "I'd go, 'Oh, no hamentaschen here!'" She'd buy the egg bread, and it wouldn't taste like egg bread.

"There's a very specific recipe for a seven-layer cake," Michelle said. "And if you don't care about that, I can't talk you into caring. Karsh's had one location because we couldn't do a chain and have our product be as good as it was. Everything was made by hand, that morning, and you tasted that."

Convenience has replaced tradition, Michelle said. "It's Bashas' instead of a bakery. And that's just how the world is evolving."

Michelle's mother tried to be polite about how most people buy their baked goods at the supermarket. "I don't know how you sell a sandwich roll for five cents," she sighed. "What are they made out of? You can get used to rye bread made out of air, I suppose."

Like a lot of us, Gloria is trying to imagine Phoenix without Karsh's Bakery. "Everywhere we went in this town, everyone had a story about a cake or a loaf of bread we made for them," she confided. "We did their wedding cake, their baby's first birthday cake, their bar mitzvah."

She let out another long sigh. "I don't know what we're going to talk to people about now."

I did not join the people who lined up to say goodbye to Karsh's. On that day, I went instead to Chompie's Kosher Deli, to get a glimpse of my future. I was afraid if I went to Karsh's and someone in that long queue said to me, "I can't believe they're closing," I would have to ask, "But when was the last time you shopped here?"

I stood in front of the long, gleaming glass-and-chrome case at Chompie's, staring at cookies and trying not to feel defeated. The rugelach were gorgeous. The neatly exiled pareve were piled high. Hamentaschen beckoned.

Not buying something seemed churlish; it was not, after all, Chompie's fault that Karsh's was closing. I bought a babka. I sat in my car and ate it. It was a perfectly serviceable babka. Good, even. With each bite I told myself, I can create new loyalties. I can learn to like not-quite-as-good rye bread. I can drive farther and come home with less. Things change. Today is today, and tomorrow is gone.

Another part of me wanted a better babka. It was the part of me that knew that, in this town at least, that would never happen. Ever again.

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13 comments
pca2002002
pca2002002

Karsh's rye bread lives!!  The Arizona Bread Company has hired Karsh's head baker and is producing their rye bread.  It debuted today at 4 area farmers markets (Downtown Phx, Old Town Scottsdale, Park west, and Roadrunner Park) and should be in full production in a couple of weeks.


FYI, while we're not kosher, we are Jewish owned .. just couldn't stand the thought of not having that rye bread.

bakedgoods
bakedgoods

I don't really think their closing can only be the fault of people wanting convenience. It seems like (at least in recent years) they probably didn't do any sort of advertising, marketing, PR, etc.. And lots of bakers sell their products in other locations, coffee shops, farmer's markets, etc. which helps grow the customer base. Seems like they were relying on a customer base that probably just wasn't around anymore. Not to mention the location had pretty poor visability. 

bakedgoods
bakedgoods

I don't really think their closing is the fault of people wanting convenience. It seems like (at least in recent years) they probably didn't do any sort of advertising, marketing, PR, etc.. And lots of bakers sell their products in other locations, coffee shops, farmer's markets, etc. which helps grow the customer base. Seems like they were relying on a customer base that probably just wasn't around anymore. Not to mention the location had pretty poor visability. 

NoFestRequired
NoFestRequired

Ronay's Bakery was incredible and I'm very glad you mentioned them. We switched event cake allegiance to Karsh's after Ronay's closed.

rsvpdavid
rsvpdavid

This is terrible.  

Karsh's had the best maple nut danish I have EVER eaten.  Plus, it was the only place I knew that made proper poppy strip.  I probably bought over 100 of their 7-layer cakes over my 40 years. 


I reliably drove there from North Scottsdale, and am very upset that they are gone. 


******if you worked/baked  for Karsh's and are willing to share any of the recipes with me, please write....I PROMISE to make it worth your while

rsvpdavid@yahoo.com

drlov2000
drlov2000

My father and I would go to the store, and get some thin sliced ham on a Saturday afternoon.  On the way home...a quick stop at Karsh's for some Jewish Rye Bread.  The best rye I ever had.  It is sad when such a great business closes.  I met the new owner at an MDA Telethon.  I told him how I would stop there with my father and get the rye.  Best ham and rye going.  Thank you for all of the years of wonderful service and a rye to die for, for sure! 

tjm0819inaz
tjm0819inaz

Thank you for all of the wonderful memories through out the years!!!!

smada
smada

Greetings

We were not Jewish but lois and I bought many bakery items there over thes 59 years for our family and we can say without t doublt that we knew all of the families down through the years that started,owned and managed this outstanding Phoenix establishment and land mark. My I say for Lois now gone and for me. Thanks for the memories and God Bless.

L.Hiram(Larry)Adams

justagoy
justagoy

oh! it's a jewish bakery! I thought it was just a bakery and wondered what all the fuss was about.

rsvpdavid
rsvpdavid

@pca2002002  

Cool!

In addition to the bread, will you accept special orders to make any of the other pastries?



pca2002002
pca2002002

@rsvpdavid @pca2002002 Sorry but no.  We don't do pastries in our wholesale bakery.  But I know there's a guy trying to buy up the rest of Karsh's and reopen in the space with the full pastry lineup.

 
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