Bye-bye bialys! Brooklyn-baked buns on backburner

Bye-bye bialys! Brooklyn-baked buns on backburner
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Beloved for years from Canarsie to Greenpoint, the bialy — a once-ubiquitous Brooklyn-made breakfast treat that’s not quite bagel and not quite roll — is going the way of the dodo.

That’s because Sheepshead Bay’s Coney Island Bialys and Bagels — one of just two bakeries left in the borough that make the un-holey concoction — will bake its last batch next month after serving hungry Southern Brooklynites for 57 years.

Master baker Steven Ross, 51, said he’s closing his business on Coney Island Avenue near Avenue U because the demand for his wares — which also include the now-ubiquitous bagel — has steadily dwindled over the past decade, a time when the bialy took a back seat to its smaller, chubbier little brother.

“I’m hoping to stay open through the Jewish holidays next month, but I don’t think it’s going to happen,” said Ross, who had to lay off one of three employees this week. “We don’t bake any more during the day because there’s no business.”

Not surprisingly, longtime customers, who loved the Ross’s trademark bialy sticks, onion jacks and pretzels, are distraught.

“My husband and I love them — they make the best bialys,” said Coney Island resident Ida Sanoff “Nobody else’s bialys are half as good as theirs. I just don’t know what we’re going to do.”

The store is one of only two bialy-makers left in Brooklyn — Dell Bialys in Canarsie makes a limited number of the bread similar to a bagel but flatter and without a hole in the middle, at its Foster Avenue shop.

The snack was much more popular 91 years ago — when Ross’ grandfather and his great uncles immigrated to Brooklyn and opened their first bialy store in East New York.

Back then, the Brooklyn had scores of bialy bakeries churning out the chewy flatbread with the onions in the middle.

In 1954, the bakery moved to its current location near and added a deli counter because locals demanded a nearby place to buy the treats they smelled cooking all day long.

The store soon became a destination, attracting bialy-hungry denizens to Coney Island Avenue.

During the shop’s heyday in the 1970s and 1980s when the store was open 24 hours a day, Ross’s cooks baked on average 2,700 to 6,000 bialys and 1,440 bagels each day.

It was during those years that Brooklyn saw a rise in “Hot Bagels and Bialys” storefronts that, increasingly gave top-billing to the boiled bagel, as its baked brother was pushed further down the marquee.

Today, even though Ross still makes far more bialys than bagels, the numbers are staggeringly off their peak: baking between 540 to 720 bialys and 240 bagels a day. Worse, the store closes at 6 pm, so midnight snacks have to wait.

He blames the neighborhood’s changing tastes and migration of his primarily Jewish customer base to New Jersey for his decline in profits.

“They’re looking for red bull, extra beer and cigarettes. They’re not looking for bialys,” said Ross.