I’m sure you’ve heard all the buzz about Brooklyn…the new indie stores, trendy art galleries, hip restaurants and famous people who become instantly stylish by living there.
But back before Brooklyn was cool—and before it was uncool before that—it was a place where innovation and opportunity thrived, especially for many Jewish immigrants.
This post is an homage of sorts. To three foodie originals: Joyva, Fox’s U-bet Chocolate Syrup and Gromberg Seltzer Works. All started by Jewish immigrants back in the day. Still in business. Still family run and still located in Brooklyn.
Joyva was started in 1907 on the Lower East Side. (They are now in Williamsburg.) Nathan Radutzky, the founder, immigrated to the U.S. from Kiev, and at 22 years old he had a recipe and an idea.
Radutzky’s idea was to bring halvah to the United States, to redefine and modernize it for a new generation. His dream realized, Joyva halvah became synonymous with the Eastern European immigrants in the early part of the twentieth century. Joyva is the largest producer of halvah in the U.S and even to this day makes its halvah by hand. They also make many candy and specialty food items that have been loved for generations. Joyva is now run by Nathan’s grandson Richard.
Kelly Fox now runs U-bet, which was founded by his great-grandfather in 1900. He, in turn, hired his father to come work for him, and that’s how the family business began.
Kelly said that originally the syrup was made “in my great grandfather’s home, being delivered by horse and carriage, and eventually in our current location, which has expanded over time.” They have been located in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn since the beginning. After his great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather’s time, his grandfather took over and eventually his father came into the business and is still there. Kelly has worked at U-bet for 13 years and is bringing the company to the next generation.
GROMBERG SELTZER WORKS
Gromberg Seltzer Works started in 1953 by Moe Gromberg, who emigrated from Russia. It was a thriving business as the Eastern Europeans brought their love of seltzer with them to the U.S. Today, Gromberg is the last remaining seltzer factory in New York.
It’s now run by third generation Kenny and fourth generation, Alex, who started Brooklyn Seltzer Boys bringing quality seltzer to a new generation.
Kelly told me that “while the ingredients are never disputed (milk, seltzer from a siphon bottle and, of course, Fox’s U-bet), the order and manner in which they are introduced is up for debate. Some people will say that the Fox’s Syrup should be added while stirring in order to get a different color head…again, up for some debate but the way I was taught is what I am giving you.”
The Classic Brooklyn Egg-Cream
Take a tall, chilled, straight-sided, 8oz. glass
Spoon 1 inch of U-bet chocolate syrup into the glass
Add 1 inch whole milk
Tilt the glass and spray seltzer (from a pressurized cylinder only) off a spoon, to make a big chocolate head
Stir, Drink, Enjoy
**Next week: some of the new Jewish entrepreneurs on the Brooklyn specialty food scene reviving classic Jewish food.**