England’s Jewish community marked the end of an era in September. Grodzinski, the storied kosher bakery founded in 1888, was sold—which meant, for the first time in 134 years, a member of the namesake family would no longer be at the helm of the original business.
Now, the only place where the family is still running the operation under their name is in Toronto, which is where we caught up with Daniel Grodzinski.
After working in the family’s British bakery for 17 years, Daniel anticipated a career change when he moved to Canada in 1997 with his Toronto-born wife, Rhona.
“I came from London swearing that I would not run or own a bakery. It was not on the agenda.”
Trained as an accountant, he had other career aspirations. But when a bakery on Bathurst Street became available two years later, his wife encouraged him to take it over.
Judith and Harrison Grodzinski, the great-grandparents of Daniel, immigrated to London from a shtetl in what is now Belarus. (Harrison actually came from a long line of bakers that could be traced back to Ahron Grodzienczyk who was born in the same shtetl around 1740.)
The Grodzinskis started out by selling bilkele (miniature challah rolls) from trading barrels, the British equivalent of pushcarts.
They opened a storefront in London’s East End: “It was in the heart of the older Jewish community like Kensington Market, or the lower east side of Manhattan.” (The building was destroyed by German bombs in 1940, during the Blitz.)
Judith and Harrison’s son Abe took over the business, which he operated with his wife, Bertha, until his death from the Spanish flu in 1918. Daniel’s father, Ruby, was only eight years old at the time.
And so, Bertha managed the bakery until Ruby and his brother Harry were old enough to take over. By the mid-1960s Grodzinski had 24 London outlets and was the largest Jewish bakery chain in Europe, although only four remained by 2022.
Daniel Grodzinski said he has had to adapt to Canadian shopping patterns and tastes. For instance, Toronto has less pedestrian shopping traffic.
“Nobody walks here to do shopping. In the London bakery on a high street people came in every day.”
He also had to expand his offerings. For example, customers requested iced cookies—which are not sold in the London stores. Nor are nothings, hollow cookies coated in sugar.
“I had never heard of nothings,” he recalled. “I had to contact Gunns Bakery in Winnipeg to get the recipe.”
When he took over the bakery, he worked closely with a Hungarian pastry chef to develop new products.
The business grew quickly and he opened a location in Thornhill in 2002, which Daniel’s wife ran for 20 years.
They sold that store recently because she wanted to retire—and spend more time with three children and 10 grandchildren in Israel.
The bakery has also changed with the times. All products have been nut-free for a decade and some are gluten-free.
While grocery stores often sell kosher baked goods, Grodzinski does not view this as competition. The less expensive items are usually factory-produced, and so supermarkets also tend to offer the more expensive, hand-made goods produced by independent kosher bakeries.
Daniel offered some advice for young people wanting to start a similar business on their own. They must be committed to putting in long days of serving customers, and understand the need to put business before family sometimes.
As a result, he’s glad his five children all found other satisfying paths, even if that means the end of a family lineage.
But he’s still satisfied with the decision he made in establishing the Grodzinski name in Toronto.
“I didn’t want to be a cog in a large wheel. It was mazel in the end.”