Something to challah about! B&H dairy restaurant reopens

Longtime customers dug into their usual B&H breakfasts last Friday for the first time in almost five months. Dan Efram, right, has been coming to B&H for 23 years.  Photos by Yannic Rack

Longtime customers dug into their usual B&H breakfasts last Friday for the first time in almost five months. Dan Efram, right, has been coming to B&H for 23 years. Photos by Yannic Rack

BY YANNIC RACK  |  Updated Wed., Aug. 19: After its doors were shuttered almost five months ago, the B&H kosher dairy restaurant on Second Ave. finally reopened last Fri., Aug. 14, with a line of loyal customers stretching out the door.

The restaurant, an East Village staple since the 1930s, closed in the aftermath of the gas explosion that destroyed three buildings on the same block back in late March.

Fawzy Abdelwahed, who has run the dairy with his wife, Ola, since 2003, struggled to pay the $30,000 monthly rent plus expenses, but was saved from bankruptcy by two successful crowdfunding campaigns.

He also had to update his gas facilities and install a costly new fire-suppression system, all mandated by the city after the explosion.

“It was very close. For a while I really lost hope,” he said on Friday, while his staff — all of whom have returned to the restaurant — dished out buttered challah and coffee to the enthusiastic locals that packed the counter and tables of the small shop.

“I’m feeling great,” Abdelwahed said, standing behind the counter next to his wife. “All my customers, all my friends — everybody’s here.”

Mike Tarabih, who has worked at B&H for 10 years, said he didn’t take another job while the restaurant was closed but instead passed the time at home, babysitting.

“I missed my place, I missed my customers. I’m really excited. I couldn’t sleep for two days,” he said right before the gas was turned back on for the first time.

Standing in the small kitchen and tending to her pots of split-pea soup, bouillon and brown rice, Bogna Sanga, the dairy’s Polish cook, was beaming, too.

It didn’t take long for everyone to settle back into their old routine, and soon the regulars were enjoying their usual orders.

“This is what we’ve been waiting for,” said Dan Efram — who has been coming to the classic East Village eatery for 23 years — as he bit into his first slice of challah.

Next to him, Lawrence Weibman, a food writer and blogger, enjoyed his own favorite dish — an egg-and-cheese sandwich on challah bread, with a potato pancake stuffed inside for good measure.

“It’s like being home,” he said. “When I come here, I feel like I’m going back to my grandma’s kitchen.”

Andy Reynolds, who has been helping the owners get back on their feet by organizing the fundraisers and liaising with city agencies, said that the restaurant will host a proper reopening party on Fri., Aug. 21, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

B&H owner Fawzy Abdelwahed with his wife, Ola, left, and Bernadette Nation from the Department of Small Business Services, who has been helping the restaurant obtain permits and navigate through complicated agency bureaucracy.

B&H owner Fawzy Abdelwahed with his wife, Ola, left, and Bernadette Nation from the Department of Small Business Services, who has been helping the restaurant obtain permits and navigate through complicated agency bureaucracy.

Florence Bergson Goldberg, the daughter of the original owners, will be the “guest of honor” at the event.

There are also plans to install a plaque in the restaurant with the names of everyone who helped out.

Jordy Trachtenberg, who lives around the corner on St. Mark’s Place and remembers hearing the explosion back in March, was one of the regulars that donated to the campaign — twice.

“The food is spectacular, but it’s really about the people, the community, the environment,” he said. “You talk about the fabric of New York; this is a delicious stitch.”

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