Charles Entenmann

by | Mar 9, 2022 | Obituaries

(New York Jewish Week via JTA)—Nothing seems so Jewish as a box of Entenmann’s cake or cookies.

“All of the Jews I know bought Entenmann’s,” wrote Nancy Kalikow Maxwell in her 2009 book Typically Jewish.

The bakery earned a place in Tablet magazine’s list of “100 Most Jewish Foods,” with an essay by TV producer and foodie Phil Rosenthal singing the praises of their chocolate-covered donuts.

And yet, the family that opened the bakery on Long Island and expanded into supermarkets across the country wasn’t Jewish. Charles Edward Entenmann, the family patriarch who helped make the company a national brand and who died Feb. 24 at the age of 92, was the grandson of a German immigrant who launched the bakery in Brooklyn in 1898.

Charles Entenmann was known as a shrewd businessman and inventor, who focused on engineering and technical aspects of Entenmann’s, according to Newsday. One of the company’s innovations was see-through packaging, which let shoppers preview what kinds of cakes, cookies and danishes they were getting through a cellophane window.

The company plant in Long Island grew from five acres in 1961 to 14 acres by 2014, before Warner-Lambert bought the business for $233 million in 1978.

The Entenmann’s reputation as a “Jewish” brand owes much to its adoption, in the 1980s, of kosher certification from the Orthodox Union. The company tapped a market for budget baked goods for Jewish families and hosts—the all-dairy alternative to Stella D’Oro’s parve, or non-dairy, cakes and cookies.

In 2002, the OU’s newsletter celebrated Entenmann’s and another Jewish-adjacent brand, Thomas’ English Muffins, in an article declaring both “a kosher tradition.” In 2018, news that Bimbo Bakeries USA had acquired the company sent shock waves through the kosher-keeping world: Bimbo said it would be removing kosher certification from the breads made by Arnold, Sara Lee, Stroehmann, Freihofer’s and other brands it acquired in the deal.  Entenmann’s and Thomas’, it turned out, would remain certified kosher.

The kosher symbol also assured people on halal and vegetarian diets that there were no pork or any other animal products in the recipes. “Entenmann’s success pointed out a previously under-appreciated phenomenon: the impact of kosher symbols reaches well beyond the Jewish community,” wrote Gil Marks, in his Encyclopedia of Jewish Food.

“I’m going to tell you something that’s been pretty much a secret, most of my life anyway,” his son, also named Charles, told Newsday. “He didn’t eat Entenmann’s cake. He just wasn’t a dessert guy.”