In 1935, when Columbus Avenue was still shadowed by the 9th Avenue El, Ernest and Isabella Grossinger opened a very special bakery on 76th and Columbus Avenue. Grossinger’s Home Bakery drew in crowds with exquisite praline ice cream cake, bombe glacée, cheese cakes, a delicious open-faced plum tart, and a special Hungarian dessert called a Rigo Jancsi, named after a Gypsy violinist, made of chocolate whipped cream and chocolate cake. At Thanksgiving, the bakery would sell over 100 ice cream cakes.
In its heyday, the bakery was supplying its praline confection to twenty restaurants including the famed Lutece. Food critic Mimi Sheraton praised it in print. And, Grossinger’s was promoted as the place to buy a quality cheese cake when shopping in New York in the book, “Where to Find it, Buy it and Eat it in New York,” by Gerry Frank.
Ernest passed away in November, 1972. The following year, Ernest and Isabella’s son Herb took over the business, opening a second location on 88th and Columbus in 1981.
But eventually the Upper West Side gentrified, rents skyrocketed, and Grossinger regretfully gave up both stores.
Grossinger’s Home Bakery on 76th Street closed in 1991. Grossinger’s Uptown Bakery, at 88th and Columbus, shut its doors in 1999.
But, the business has actually survived for the past three decades. The cakes can still be ordered by phone and via email, and are baked by Herb Grossinger, son of Ernest and Isabella Grossinger, the bakery’s original owners.
“I still make the praline ice cream cake and can make one for you. I recently shipped one to Palm Desert, California. The customer grew up on the Upper West Side and he doesn’t care about the cost of shipping, since I have to pack it in dry ice and I buy a special insulated box for the purpose. His family ordered this cake over the last 50 years,” Herb tells us.
Herb also tells us he made a cake for Ruth Messenger’s birthday a few months ago. Ruth’s grandmother was also a patron of the bakery.
Grossinger is an engaging story-teller, proud of the the cakes produced by his family. Describing his father’s inventiveness, Herb Grossinger says “my Dad introduced the ice cream cake to NY as the perfect two in one ice cream and cake together. In the 1930s, people would have cake with ice cream! He put the two together. Carvel started his ice cream cake business in 1935, but it was all ice cream. My Dad made the combo and then, in 1954, developed the praline ice cream cake. He adds, “My father’s wedding cakes were outstanding, like museum pieces.”
Herb’s parents Ernest and Isabella Grossinger were originally from Transylvania (then Hungary and what is now Romania.) First cousins, Ernest arrived in New York in 1914 and Isabella in 1929. They married and lived downtown until taking over an earlier bakery on Columbus Avenue from a French baker named Le Blanc. Ernest baked and Isabella minded the store. The Grossinger family lived above the store with the phone wired to ring in both locations. “So, someone would run down if Mrs. Schwartz arrived to pick up her cake at an odd time or while the family was having dinner.”
Herb went to neighborhood PS 87, Joan of Arc JHS, before finishing HS at Charles Evans Hughes and going on to graduate from Fairleigh Dickinson University. He worked as a stockbroker and later, in 1974, changed directions and joined the family business. After marrying, he and his wife, an art teacher and sculptor, moved to North Jersey where they raised a family.
When he’s not baking, Herb is working on a memoir called “Breaking Eggs.”