Immigrants' bakery has delicious smell of success

January 03, 1995|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,Sun Staff Writer

When Faina Shvartsberg and her family moved from Odessa in Ukraine to Owings Mills in Baltimore County five years ago, it was to create a better life.

And now she has. Six months ago, after years of working low-paying jobs and scrimping and saving, she and her husband opened the Old Fashioned Bakery on Sherwood Road in the community of Idlewylde near Towson.

"It was my dream," said Mrs. Shvartsberg, 37, who does about three-fourths of the work -- baking bread and desserts, filling restaurant orders, selling delicacies from all over Europe and teaching the trade to her husband, Emil, 47, a former cabdriver. "I am baker, owner; wash dishes, everything. And my husband, he makes a bread."

They work as many as 16 hours a day in the tiny bakery on the lower level in the back of a small strip shopping center.

Propped near the pastries inside glass cases are hand-written signs identifying cream horns, croissants, eclairs, cheesecake, baklava, cinnamon bread, and apple dumplings.

On shelves, there are boxes of cookies, both imported and homemade.

Behind the counter are a bread-slicing machine and several varieties of European breads. And the slightly cluttered kitchen has everything they need, even a small TV -- although there's not much time to watch it. "We don't have helper yet," Mrs. Shvartsberg said.

To make everything fresh, they often start their workday at 2 a.m., when they fill catering orders and prepare to open at 7 a.m. weekdays, a little later on weekends. They make deliveries, donate extra pies to a nearby nursing home and finish up at 6 p.m.

Their current vocation is an improvement over life in their native Odessa, where Mrs. Shvartsberg worked in a bakery and her husband drove a truck.

They have two sons.

"There, it was bad life," Mrs. Shvartsberg said.

"I didn't see future for my children. All around, no food. I couldn't find food or clothes for my children or myself.

"It was very difficult to live there because I am Jewish. It was Communist Party. It was one religion for everybody."

Housing was even worse. "Apartment, my God, it was terrible," she said.

"Sometimes I had water. Sometimes winter time I had heat."

When the ceiling fell in

Fourteen years ago, part of the ceiling of the more than 150-year-old building fell in, almost trapping her and a then-infant son.

But there was nowhere else to go.

"It's not like here," she said. "I didn't have chance to have new apartment. I was lucky -- I had independent apartment for my family. A lot of my friends lived . . . five, six families in one apartment.

"[One] kitchen for everybody, [one] bathroom for everybody."

Leaving was not easy

When the Shvartsbergs considered leaving Odessa in January 1989 for its sister city, Baltimore, their sentimental and cultural attachments complicated the decision. The parents of each were dead, but other family members and friends resided there.

Ultimately, however, it came down to a quick and simple discussion: "We said, 'So what, we're moving?' And we said, 'Yes,' " Mrs. Shvartsberg said.

Six months later, the family took a three-day bus ride to Austria, where they stayed a month, then took a night-long train ride to Rome and stayed for five months.

After an Italian Jewish organization arranged for them to come to Baltimore, they arrived in January 1990 and got in touch with Jewish Family Services, which helps Jewish immigrants find jobs, housing and support in the Baltimore area.

She was for us like a mother

Their social worker, Rhona Bluman, found them an apartment and provided bedding, blankets and a few days' worth of food. "She was for us like a mother," Mrs. Shvartsberg said.

Soon after arriving, Mrs. Shvartsberg found work as a baker at a Dunkin' Donuts in Reisterstown, initially earning $4 an hour on the graveyard shift while caring for her sons during the day.

Later, she switched to a morning shift and her salary eventually went up to $7.50 an hour.

Mr. Shvartsberg drove a cab for a Baltimore taxi company.

After four years of baking doughnuts and driving taxis, the Shvartsbergs borrowed $4,000 from friends, and matched that with $4,000 they had saved.

"For these many years, I saved this money," Mrs. Shvartsberg said. "It's very hard . . . we didn't buy . . . just emergencies, and we didn't go anywhere; we didn't have any treats."

Relatives now live nearby

Now, the family has a two-bedroom apartment in Owings Mills, and relatives from home have since immigrated and found apartments nearby.

They enlisted a real estate agent to help them find the Sherwood Road site, which was less expensive than any near their home, and rented the vacant space for $500 a month.

They bought a 10-burner stove with two electric ovens, a heavy-duty mixer, a refrigerator and freezer -- and opened in late June.

While Mrs. Shvartsberg talked, Mr. Shvartsberg stayed in the kitchen, coming out only briefly, and mentioning that English has been difficult for him.

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