Orwasher's Bakery is one of those old New York institutions with a tricky history. It was founded at 308 E. 78th Street in 1916, and the owners would like you to think nothing's changed since then. That's true, but only in part, and in a rather cosmetic way.
The shop was founded by Abraham Orwasher, who made eastern European and Jewish styles of bread in the coal-fired brick oven in the basement, servicing the kosher and Hungarian communities in the area. Abraham's son Louis inherited the business, and is said to have invented raisin pumpernickel bread. Louis' son Abram took over from there. All three generations used the same sourdough starter. The family owned the building that housed the bakery.
In 2007, Keith Cohen, who had worked at Tribeca Oven, entered the picture. He bought the business and fancified the offerings, adding Italian and French artisanal breads. His line of artisan "wine breads" were launched in 2009. In a nod to history and tradition, he still makes the old challah and other rustic breads in the original oven every week.
Visiting the bakery, therefore, is like visiting a land lying somewhere between Old New York and New New York. The exterior looks fairly modern, with its sleek panes of glass. The clean awning says "Orwasher's Handmade Bread," a boast Abraham would think to obvious and foolish to make. The interior still looks something like an old-fashioned bakery, though even it is way too polished and pretty for that. The tile floor with the big "O" remains. The breads, meanwhile, are delicious and authentic. And the shop does have a kosher certification.
The most Old World thing about the place, however—at least on my recent visit—was the short, plump, old woman who served me. She looked like she had been working there for decades. No hipster she.