You’d love Jim’s Bakery. It’s one of those gems you might never experience unless you get off the beaten track and know where to look. It’s located in Jenna’s NYC neighborhood of Kensington, and she’s lucky in that she lives next door and above it. When Jenna moved in, she learned that she and Jim’s family have a shared ancestry on Jenna’s maternal side of the family. Jim’s family not only befriended her, but pretty much adopted her as their own.
The bakery was started by Jim Halaksa’s parents, who fled their home country of Czechoslovakia in the early 1930s ahead of the invading Germans. It must have been heart wrenching, leaving family and friends behind, but the young newlyweds were seeking a brighter, happier future. Jim’s father Jakub has passed on, but his mother Pavla comes to work in the bakery alongside Jim and daughter-in-law Rosa most days. It’s a big part of Pavla’s life, always has been, and a significant number of the customers that frequent the bakery have been loyal customers for decades.
There’s a brass bell over the door that rings out a friendly greeting, and faint strains of traditional folk songs float with the aroma of yeast and spices from the back room, embracing customers as they come and go. The floor is a red and white, tiled checkerboard, and there are a few tables near the front for those who want to savor their treat with a cup of coffee or tea. The walls are lined with mis-matched frames of photos taken over the years in an unwitting, chronicled tribute to Jakub and Pavla’s bravery, determination, and hard, honest work. It’s clean, efficient, and friendly; customers are more than patrons – they’re friends and family.
So, what’s in the white, glass-fronted food cases? Well, there are kolaches, filled with fruit or cheese, poppy seed rolls, and babovka, a chocolate and vanilla marbled cake. There’s also bublanina, a bubbly coffee cake filled with blueberries or cherries and kremrole, a crispy roll-shaped puff pastry filled with either meringue or whipped cream. If you want some bread for later, there’s lomnicke, a twice-baked bread, sumava, a traditional, oval sourdough loaf, or perhaps you want a dozen or so houska, small bread rolls.
There’s a little niche at the bottom of the stairs leading to Jenna’s apartment, right outside a side door of the bakery that opens to a small foyer. Rosa started putting leftover baked goods there for Jenna – a partial loaf of lomnicke or a kolache or two. Jenna reciprocates with small gifts like chocolates or a small geranium plant. A small note might accompany the gift, but other than that, it’s a silent, loving exchange.
There’s usually a line in front of the door that extends down the block. No one knows exactly when people start queuing, but it’s in the wee hours of the morning, under the cover of darkness. They’re eager customers who inhale the yeast aroma escaping from the oven vents in the roof while they wait for Jim to unlock at 7am. If you want to get what you’re hoping for, you better get there early and get in line!
Until next time…