About 1890, Yonah Schimmel, a Romanian immigrant, used a pushcart to start his knish bakery. As business grew, a small store on Houston Street was rented by Yonah and his cousin Joseph Berger. When Yonah left the business a few years later, Berger took over the business, retaining the original name. In 1910, the Bergers moved the business to the south side of Houston Street, at its current location. Yonah Schimmel’s has been family owned since its inception and is currently operated by Yonah’s great nephew, Alex Wolfman.
It is as much a landmark as an eatery and has frequently been an artist’s subject. A portrait of the Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery by Hedy Pagremanski (b. 1929) is in the permanent collection of the Museum of the City of New York. More recently it features in the 2009 Woody Allen film Whatever Works.
The restaurant offers a number of varieties of knishes, including the traditional potato and kasha (buckwheat groats) knishes, known for using the same recipe since the bakery’s opening, in addition to other kinds of Eastern European food such as borscht, and runs a brisk takeout business. The knishes can also be purchased through their website and shipped overnight to anywhere in the United States.