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Rinkoff bakery's flour power made Jewish history

A new book says the 108-year-old establishment's secret to longevity is adapting its recipes over time

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In the 1960s, as well as the more reputable customers of the long-standing Rinkoff bakery in Whitechapel, London, were the Kray twins.

The famous gangsters always asked for their purchases to be added to their account, which was, unsurprisingly, never settled.

When the unpaid bill reached epic proportions, Jack Kaye, one of the bakery’s managers who had been a well-known amateur boxer in his youth, took the bull by the horns. He went to the Blind Beggar pub, where he spotted one of the Krays and said he wanted the account paid.

The Kray brother said Jack had been very brave to come and ask for the money, so he would pay his bill. He peeled off the money from a wodge of notes and handed it over.

This is one of the many stories that appears in History in the Baking: The Rinkoff Story, published on November 12.

The bakery was founded by Hyman Rinkoff, who, when just 18, travelled from Ukraine to London. Today, fifth-generation family members are involved in the bakery that he established in Old Montague Street in 1911.

In many ways, the history of the Rinkoff family is a microcosm of Anglo-Jewish life over the last century.

Laura Kieff-Softness, Hyman’s first grandchild, lived above the bakery as a child. She remembers “the two Moishes”, the bakers employed in Rinkoff in the early 1940s, with clarity. The younger and taller Moishe was known as “Moishe Unionbrote” because of his involvement in the London Jewish Bakers’ Union. He apparently walked the streets of Whitechapel encouraging people to buy only bread baked by union members and bearing the union’s label.

About the older, smaller Moishe, Kieff-Softness said: “The bakery’s doughmaking machine was very old and kept breaking down. When this happened, Little Moishe’ took off his shoes and socks and kneaded the bread with his bare feet. He always wore a dirty apron, which he hopefully took off before getting into the mixing bowl!”

Starting as a neighbourhood bakery, serving mainly Eastern European Jewish immigrants, H Rinkoff Ltd evolved to become a thriving retail and wholesale business, the ‘venue of choice’ for a multi-cultural clientele and supplying many high-profile companies and institutions.

One of the main reasons for the bakery’s endurance has been the willingness of the Rinkoff family to take difficult decisions about the bakery’s market orientation. Against the backdrop of general changes in the baking industry, the Rinkoff story chronicles how the range of goods produced by the bakery altered, adapting to changing tastes and lifestyles without detracting from the bakery’s artisan roots or the quality of its produce.

However, the Rinkoffs remained loyal to the East End. Even in the 1960s and 1970s, after most Jews and Jewish shops had relocated, the bakery was an oasis of Jewish life in increasingly run-down Whitechapel. Today, the Rinkoff bakery is a celebrated institution and a popular reminder of the rich Jewish life that once flourished in the East End.

Over the years, the bakery has passed seamlessly from one generation of Rinkoffs to the next. Each family member who has become involved in its running has left their mark on the business.

While in the past the bakery tended to be male-dominated, in the last decade major changes have been introduced by Jennifer and Debs Rinkoff, daughters of the longstanding master baker Ray Rinkoff who says: “They brought the bakery screaming and kicking into the twenty-first century.” They have introduced the use of social media and new products, such as Jennifer Rinkoff’s crodough, which have attracted customers as far away as Hong Kong.

In a recent JC article, Robert Rinder stressed the importance of bringing Jewish history alive through family stories. In the same article, Leigh Dworkin, Chair of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain, commented, “Genealogy is all about story-telling. It isn’t just names and dates.” The Rinkoff story is a good example of what the commentators were calling for.

‘History in the Baking: The Rinkoff Story’ by Pam Fox is available on Ebay and at the Rinkoff shops (£12)

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