How sweet it is

Ellen Futterman

Ellen Futterman, Editor

How sweet it is

In the wake of the sad news about Pratzel’s closing comes two cups of sugar – Toby’s Challa House & Bake Shop and Norma’s Bakery.

Toby Elefant has been baking out of her University City home for 10 years but last year she converted a room into a home bakery and became kosher approved (pareve and Pas Yisrael) by the Vaad Hoeir of St. Louis. She bakes several kinds of challah (white, wheat, ranging in price from $4 to $6.50 depending on size) and more than 60 varieties of cakes, cookies and pastries (from $6.50 to $20), including her husband’s favorite, Mississippi Mud Bars. “It’s a toss up between those and her chocolate mint brownies,” says Dov Elefant. Other popular items include both chocolate and cinnamon babka, chocolate chip cookies, sprinkle cookies, brownies and coffee cake, all of which are always on hand.

Toby says she always liked to bake, but turned to it as a business so that she could stay home with her children when they were young. She has 12 children – yes, you read that correctly! -ranging in age from 3 to 26.

With the closing of Pratzel’s, Toby says her business is picking up, and she expects that to continue with Purim in March and Passover in April. Not that she’s complaining.

“We are looking into the possibility of opening a free-standing bakery,” she says, admitting that the prospect is thrilling and frightening.

Currently, Toby’s Challa House has no website but you are welcome to call for a brochure or place an order at 314-862-2914.

Like Toby, Norma Yabeta loves to bake, though her operation is much smaller. She prepares her challah and cakes from the kitchen at Nusach Hari B’nai Zion (NHBZ) Synagogue under the supervision of Rabbi Ze’ev Smason, who says her baked goods are kosher and pareve.

“I love baking,” says Norma, 48, who moved to the United States from her native Bolivia four years ago. “I use only the freshest, natural ingredients so my bread and cakes are very moist.”

The prices of these items include a small donation to NHBZ. Challah sells for $4.50 and $6, depending on its size, with a $1 or $2 of that going to NHBZ. Norma has three varieties of cakes that sell for $8 – “lemony lemon,” “chocolate-y chocolate” and “apple apple” – as well as a special occasion cake made with “good, real whisky and lots of genuine pecans – great for a special kiddush” that sells for $19. Again, a few dollars from the price of each go to NHBZ.

“My favorite is her chocolate cake,” says Rabbi Smason. “She baked one for my birthday last week and it didn’t last long.”

Norma, too, is quite an interesting story. She and her husband moved to his native Kansas City from Santa Cruz, Bolivia four years ago “because of the economic and political climate turning hostile for Jews there,” she explained. Unfortunately, her husband died a year and a half ago, leaving her to raise their small child.

When she felt ready to date again, she went online, where she said she met her “beshert” (soul mate) who happens to live in St. Louis. So she and her 4-year-old son moved here to be with him and she started baking.

Norma takes orders for the Sabbath through the pervious Wednesday at 314-398-1044.

More kosher comes to town

Restaurateur Jim Sandhe says some of the best ideas come from his customers. He’s hoping that will be the case when his second Indian restaurant, which is Vaad-approved dairy kosher, opens in the Delmar Loop this week.

“A customer who loves my food had wanted me to be kosher at my first location in Maryland Heights,” says Sandhe. “But it was too complicated. It was easier to be kosher from the beginning, which is what we are going to do at the new location.”

The second Gokul Indian restaurant is slated to open Thursday, Feb. 10 at 6191 Delmar Boulevard. This location will be 100 percent vegetarian as well as kosher. His hope is to score a culinary trifecta, catering to the vegetarian community, the Indian community and the kosher Jewish community.

While there is additional expense in keeping kosher, Sandhe hopes the community will support his new restaurant not just because of the certification but “because we use the freshest ingredients around and because our food is delicious.”

The first Gokul location at 10633/B Page Avenue has been open for nine years. It, too, is vegetarian, but not kosher. Both locations will be open for lunch and dinner and feature a buffet as well as an a la carte menu.

For those wondering about the name, the town of Gokul, India is said to be the place where Krishna spent his childhood.