B&H Dairy: A New York Love Story

Ola & Fawzy, wife and husband owners of B&H Dairy. Photos by Andy Reynolds.

About twenty years ago B&H owner (since 2003) Fawzy Abdelwahed wanted a break from his crowded lunch counter and ventured across the avenue for a breather at The Stage. A new immigrant from Poland, Ola Smigelska, not only took his order, but wiped his smudged glasses clean. That was it. Fawzy pursued Ola, a friendship was born, the couple married at Brooklyn Borough Hall in 2007, Ola became co-owner of B&H and thus, a former catholic from Poland and a Muslim from Egypt become the proud standard bearers for a kosher restaurant founded by Jews in the late 1930s.*

About B&H Dairy Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant

B&H in the late 1940s. Behind the counter, L-R, Leo Ratnofsky, Abie Bergson, neighbor and friend of the restaurant, Uncle Schneir. Photo courtesy of Florence Bergson, Goldberg, daughter of B&H founder Abie Bergson.
  • Established in 1938 at 127 Second Avenue, between 7th Street and St. Mark’s Place. Same location for 83 years.
  • Owned since 2003 by Fawzy Abdelwahed, an Egyptian and his Polish wife Aleksandra (Ola).
  • Kosher since 1938. Kosher certification for the past 15 years has been by Rabbi Andre Malek.
  • B&H nearly went out of business twice. First time, following a temporarily closure in 2014 after a deadly fire on the block. Second time, after being forced to close during the early months of the pandemic. Crowdfunding both times by customers and neighbors, along with pandemic relief grants and the restaurants move to delivery by app, kept B&H alive.
Cover photo from the B&H 2022 calendar by Gabi Porter.
B&H Calendars from 2017-2022. Cover photo credits: 2017 Courtesy of Florence Bergson Goldberg, 2018 Andy Reynolds, 2019 Andy Reynolds, 2020 Jackson Krule, 2021 GODLIS, 2022 Gabi Porter.
  • Photographers for the annual B&H calendar include favorite food photographer Gabi Porter, legendary punk and street photographer David Godlis (Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith, CBGBs), and award-winning NYC photographer, Jackson Krule.
B&H inspired art by Simina Popescu, Nicholas Buffon, Nash Hogan, Joel Holland.
  • Artists who have created art featuring B&H include Simina Popescu, sculptor Nicholas Buffon, Nash Hogan, Joel Holland.
New York Nico, sculptor Nicholas Buffon and friends, Sarah Silverman in B&H merchandise.
  • B&H has sold over 2000 of their “CHALLAH! por favor” T-shirts, the slogan of which has its own # and is a tribute to the multi-cultural staff. Also available on hoodies, totes and snapback hats. A second line merchandise, featuring rendering of the large neon sign which hung in the window for decades is of equally popular.
  • Actors, artists, writers and musicians who’ve sat at the B&H counter over the decades, include:

Shelly Winters
Paul Newman
Jackie Gleason
Jack Klugman
Nicole Kidman
Helen Mirren
Brett Ranter
Philip Glass
Molly Picon
Bill Macey
Maurice Schwartz
Allen Ginsberg
Abby Hoffman
Jimi Hendrix
Eli Wallach & Ann Jackson
Jerry Stiller & Anne Meara
Ann Jackson
Sarah Silverman used to live in the building next door (129 Second Avenue). 
Lily Tomlin lived directly upstairs in the 1960s

  • B&H has been featured twice in the New Yorker’s Talk of the Town—a May 1978 interview with counterman Leo Ratnofsky, who’d been a counterman at B&H since the restaurant’s opening, in 1938, and again in October 2020 for an interview with Chloe Sevigny over lunch at B&H.
15 B&H Tuna Melt on Challah sandwiches for the FDNY.
  • The B&H Tuna Melt on Challah is so popular that the FDNY regularly orders 15 at a time.
Clockwise from top: borscht, latkes, Ola serving borscht, a freshly baked loaf of challah. Photos by respected food photographer, Gabi Porter. We have many terrific photos by Gabi available for a story on B&H.
  • 100 loaves of challah are baked every day at B&H. 
  • In just one order shouted behind the counter, one can hear Arabic, English, Spanish and Polish.

To arrange a visit please contact andy@popularpublicity.com

*Edits from the“Business of the Month” profile of B&H Dairy in 2015 by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.  

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