When Zicklin School of Business MBA candidate Elizabeth Alpern opened The Gefilteria in 2012 with business partner Jeffrey Yoskowitz, the duo knew that it could be five years before they saw any profits.
But it took far less time than that for them to attract the attention of Forbes magazine and be included in its 2014 “30 Under 30” list of up-and-comers in the “Food and Drink” category. (Other categories—a total of 30—include finance, Hollywood, and sports and science.) “Jeffrey and I are honored to have been selected for the list alongside so many other great folks in the food world,” said Alpern.
The Gefilteria was born out of Alpern’s and Yoskowitz’s love of old world Jewish food, updating their favorites for today’s new world consumers, who want healthy, handcrafted, and sustainably sourced products, an oxymoron in the current world of mass-produced Kosher foods.
As its name suggests, The Gefilteria’s main focus is gefilte fish, the oft-joked-about dish that is typically made from a combination of freshwater pike, carp, whitefish, eggs, matzo meal, and seasoning and formed into balls or stick shapes. “Never was there a food that needed more of a makeover than gefilte fish,” says Alpern.
After a year of recipe testing, the pair settled on one that’s a double-layer loaf of whitefish and pike topped with salmon and steelhead trout, pre-cooked and then frozen. Just thaw and eat. All of the fish is sustainably sourced, and the product is certified kosher, of course. “We didn’t use anyone’s grandmother’s recipe,” she says.
Aside from gefilte fish, which is primarily consumed during the Jewish holidays of Passover and Rosh Hashanah, The Gefilteria makes horseradish, pickles and pickled beets, as well as kvass, a probiotic beet drink. Items are sold in some stores and can be ordered online.
Alpern says that she was “always into eating and food” despite not being raised in a devoutly culinary family in Long Beach, N.Y. In college she cooked Shabbat dinners for her friends.
Her first job postgraduation was as the publisher and director of a Jewish magazine targeted to college students, but her first cooking job was as a part-time assistant to famed cookbook author Joan Nathan. “We basically cooked her entire cookbook (Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France).” It was in Nathan’s Washington, D.C., kitchen that Alpern made her first brisket and her first pot of Jewish penicillin, a.k.a. chicken soup.
While juggling school and The Gefilteria, Alpern devotes time to the College’s Lawrence N. Field Center for Entrepreneurship, where she received advice and now dispenses it to others as a Field Fellow. “My first time at the Field Center was as a client, where I received really helpful and valuable counseling from experts. It’s an incredible resource,“ she says. “Being a part of the Field Center is the best part of my time at Baruch. I am learning more about my own business through doing research for our own clients.”
For recipes, visit gefilteria.com