Gabila's Copiague knish factory fire leads to nationwide shortage, kvetching

A small fire in September damaged machinery at Gabila's Knishes, which claims to be the world's largest producer of them, creating a nationwide shortage. Videojournalist: Jessica Rotkiewicz (Nov. 11, 2013)

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A small fire has cast a spotlight on a Long Island company that says it is the world's largest producer of fried square knishes.

Gabila's Knishes, operating at 100 Wartburg Ave. in Copiague, says it produces about 15 million a year of the doughy pillows of pureed seasoned potatoes, a traditional Jewish food.

But on Sept. 24, a small fire in a piece of electrical equipment led to, as The Associated Press put it, "shock and oy," when water damage to a machine that forms the knishes forced the shutdown of fried knish production.

The resulting national shortage of knishes has led to kvetching at delis, diners, food carts and groceries.

Stacey Ziskin Gabay, executive vice president and general counsel of Gabila's Knishes, said Monday, "We're getting calls from all of our corporate customers wanting to know when they'll have that item back and from individuals who can't find that item in the store -- and they miss it."

Round, baked knishes are still available, but many consumers apparently prefer the square fried version.

Gabay said the company hopes to be cranking them out again within the next three weeks -- depending upon the date of completion and installation of a new knish-forming machine being fabricated by an outside supplier.

"We are definitely hoping to have the machine up and running the week of Thanksgiving or, at worst, the week after," she said, noting that the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah beings at sundown the day before the national turkey day.

Gabila's, founded in Brooklyn in the 1920s by immigrant Elia Gabay of what now is Serbia, moved from Williamsburg to Copiague, its only current location, around 2005, said Gabay, and it now has 50 employees. It also makes matzo balls, blintzes and latkes. It sells the knishes both online and at retail outlets around the country, with New York, Florida and California leading the sales.

Carol Anfuso, a native New Yorker, said she has been without a knish to nosh since the BJ's Wholesale store near her Atlanta home suddenly stopped stocking them. "For the last month," she said, "I haven't had any knishes -- my heart is broken."With AP

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