Knishery NYC: A Modern Twist on an Ancient Street Food

A selection of knishes from Knishery NYC; the one on the right is chocolate hazelnut cheese.

Knishes arrived on the streets of the Lower East Side from Poland more than a century ago, and flourished as a popular, cheap street food made with ingredients easily available to peasants. This fall, Noah Wildman wants to bring them them back to the streets, this time in 21st-century Manhattan, with a new audience.

“It’s time for the knish to get a modern update,” says Wildman, a Lower East Side resident who will debut several varieties of his version of dough-and-filling at the Hester Street Fair at the end of this month.

Wildman, 40, a stay-home dad with a 2-year-old and another child arriving in early November, has a habit of turning hobbies into careers. A love of music led to a job running an independent music label early in his adult life; these days, bicycling and cooking are his favorite pasttimes.

“I’m too old and too fat to be professional bicyclist, so I was like, whoa, I guess I have to cook now,” jests Wildman, who grew up in Staten Island and moved to the Hillman Housing Co-op in 1999. After graduating from the Institute for Culinary Education, he landed a job running Ignazio’s Pizza in DUMBO for a few years, but when his children came along, he wanted a career that would let him be more flexible. The NYC pizza scene seemed overcrowded to him, and he looked for something new and interesting to fulfill his passion.

Attending a lecture by knish-lover and historian Laura Silver planted the seed for his new business, Knishery NYC.

“I grew up eating knishes. I love knishes — and they have a 100-year history in my neighborhood,” says Wildman. “It’s a dumpling that’s big, that’s a vehicle for something interesting — and that’s exciting to me.”

The knishes coming out of Knishery NYC’s ovens are small enough to be a snack or a side dish, not a meal in themselves, so that fans can mix and match flavors and eat more than one. So far, he has developed mushroom quinoa, curry sweet potato, broccoli chedder and hazelnut chocolate cheese, in addition to more traditional flavors such as cheese, cabbage, spinach, kasha and potato.

Watching other start-up small food vendors launch successful businesses from weekly booths at the Hester Street Fair has been “an inspiration” that helped drive his project, Wildman says.

The Oct. 29 fair will be Wildman’s first public taste-test, and Silver will accompany him in the booth. If it goes well, he plans to expand to other fairs in the spring; Hester Street is wrapping up its season this month. Eventually, he’d love to have a spot at Essex Street Market, he said.