The Gottlieb family migrated to Savannah, Georgia from Russia in the 1870’s. Soon after they arrived, Isadore Gottlieb began selling baked goods in the streets, first on foot,then using a horse and cart to get from stop to stop. The family opened a bakery in 1884 when their business increased, eventually retiring their horse, Tom, in favor of a delivery truck. The bakery was passed from generation to generation, and became an institution in Savannah, beloved for their chocolate chewies, rugelach and challah. Gottlieb’s eventually closed in 1994 after more than 100 years of business, much to the disappointment of their Savannah regulars.
Now, fourth generation Gottlieb brothers, Michael and Laurence, are preparing for a new chapter in the family baking saga by opening a new Gottlieb’s Bakery in 2016. They recently opened a barbecue restaurant, Wood’s Kitchen in Bloomingdale, Georgia where Michael, the chef, prepares the barbeque and southern seafood classics, such as Shrimp & Grits and Crab Cakes. Laurence, the baker, still makes the challah, baguettes and their famous Chocolate Chewies for sale at Wood’s as well wholesale to restaurants around Savannah like the Smith Brother’s Butcher Shop and Rue de Jean. We checked in with the Gottlieb brothers to get the skinny on their upcoming bakery plans. They were happy to share their thoughts with us and, as a bonus, gave us their recipe for their Cinnamon Rugelach.
TLP: You come from a long line of bakers. Did you always want to be a baker?
Michael Gottlieb: I grew up in the bakery, it was pretty much all I knew. But I have a rebel soul and wanted to forge my own way. My strong understanding for baking practices quality products has lead me to lean on that background as the inspiration for my savory plates. Having grown up in an extreme bakery environment it’s engrained in me to want direct access to the best pastry products to accompany my food, after all I’m a Gottlieb.
Laurence Gottlieb: I worked at the bakery a lot as a kid. I wanted to go to culinary school but my parents would not let me, I had to have a college bachelor degree. I always knew it was a part of me, part of me that got my foot into kitchen doors. I started in most kitchens baking even though I have a bachelor’s in culinary arts and love to cook. The restaurant seen for me is addicting, a few years back I had the opportunity to bake again, so I’m still on that sabbatical… I come out of retirement for special occasions. There is just something about walking into a scratch bakery, smelling the air, soaking in the aroma it triggers me and smells like home. The past maybe 5 years I really had an urge to bring Gottlieb’s Bakery back to Savannah. And now we are going to organically make that happen.
TLP: I am sure that everyone in Savannah who remembers Gottlieb’s is excited to hear you are reopening. What gave you the inspiration to reopen the bakery?
MG: The reopening of Gottlieb’s Bakery has always been in the back of my mind, it’s a bucket list kind of thing. My brother Laurence and I have always used the recipe stash in our other projects but we have never had a straight up bakery. I can say I am the most excited by the nostalgic effects the baked goods have on such a large part of the community.
LG: Inspiration was always there, I think the desire to reopen for me came in 2010-2011. We are grateful to have Gottlieb’s Bakery fans all over and the social media has helped spread the word. The biggest response I get to our baked goods is that they have stimulated those who remember Gottlieb’s Bakery, memories, stories, and expectations. Some I have never heard which is cool and the expectations part is a bit stressful. On the flip side there is a whole new genre of people and families in Savannah. They do not even know the who, what and whens of Gottlieb’s Bakery and seeing them fall in love with a Chocolate Chewie or Sweet Roll is also is very cool. The demand for the Bakery is very exciting.
TLP: How has the menu of what you produce changed throughout the years? Have bits of Southern cuisine become a part of your repertoire?
MG: The bakery will for sure pay homage to the original, Laurence does a great job of paying respect to the original while throwing fun twists in when appropriate. I think we will see an exciting new line of products that compliment the old Gottlieb’s favorites once those are back in play.
Having grown up in the south the ingredients always have shone through into my food. My evolution as a chef has been more about adding Gottlieb’s items to my savory repertoire that has been a fun interlude of heavy southern, French and creole influences.
TLP: What are your favorites to make and to eat?
MG: Not being the baker I must say I have been super excited with the products Laurence is turning out of the wholesale operation. When I come into work there is always a “new” pastry that I have not seen in years just waiting for me to take a bite. It’s amazing how a simple taste can transport you to a completely different place and time.
LG: Soft shell crabs when they are in season and right out of the water. I love those suckers. I can never pass on a good Roasted Chicken but it has to be delicious or I won’t eat it.
I know your asking about the bakery…. like my entire family I really dig a great croissant, Gottlieb’s Bakery never made croissants but I have learned how to make an amazing croissant when I baked at The Inn at Little Washington.
We are focusing on Gottlieb’s Bakery baked goods and it’s harder to pick a favorite, I think it depends on the moon…the Sweet Rolls are a favorite of mine to bake and eat right now they maybe more addicting than the Chocolate Chewies. Although, when I bite into a Crumb Bun or Cheese Danish my mouth still does back flips. I had not made the Rugelach without my Dad and reading his hand written recipes always well you can imagine… The Rugelach is a fun pastry to make, it is easy and super delicious (addicting). The cream cheese pastry used in the Rugelach is also a very versatile dough it can be used in tart shells, pie crusts and more.
TLP: When Gottlieb’s reopened in 2003 it was a restaurant and dessert bar. What is the plan for the new Gottlieb’s? Will any of your brothers be involved?
MG: Along with Wood’s Kitchen (which is a bad ass little BBQ joint) we are doing a lot of wholesale baking and being sold at boutique retailers around Savannah as well as supplying a couple restaurants with our breads and pastries. The current focus is to expand that portion of the business followed by a Gottlieb’s retail location that will bloom into a full service bakery/kosher style deli operation.
After the bakery/deli, let just say I’m not ruling anything out. Laurence and I definitely have multiple restaurant concepts up our sleeves. But for now, our focus is organic growth and making the right moves at the right time. We just want to do what we love to do, and provide the best quality food experiences and live up to our family name.
From The Gottlieb Family of Gottlieb’s Bakery in Savannah, Georgia