BY ANNA IRRERA
To achieve perfect consistency, traditional Greek finikia cookies must be quickly dipped into a vat of honey as they are pulled out of the oven. Swiftness is key in assuring that each richly flavored almond and walnut biscuit stays soft on the inside and crispy around the edges. For the past 88 years, this is how they have been prepared at the family-run Poseidon Bakery at 629 9th Ave.
A Hell’s Kitchen institution and one of the few remaining mom-and-pop shops on Ninth Avenue, the bakery and its authentic retro look seem unaffected by the passing of time. “Nothing has changed here, no recipe, no ingredients. We are one of the only remaining places that still make phyllo dough by hand,” an energetic Lili Fable, 71 who has been working in the family business for more than 50 years, said recently.
Lili and her husband Anthony, recently retired, live above the bakery in the apartment where they raised their sons Anthony, Marc and Paul.
“Any time the boys wanted to see anyone in the family, they just came down the back stairs, and they would find Papu and Yaya, Uncle John, their dad and anyone who was around. This store and this neighborhood are just part of my life, I’ve always been here,” said Lili Fable, flipping a Saturday morning pancake for Paul’s daughter.
Paul, who has replaced his father and will be the next Fable to take over Poseidon, also lives in the building with his wife and children. In the future, he hopes to make some space in the store for café style tables and chairs.
“What are we going to do with the fridges there? We can’t put them in the back where we have the tables to make the phyllo. I told him, ‘The day you start buying phyllo is the day I retire,’” said Lili Fable.
But not all change is bad. “This is a totally different neighborhood now,” said Lili Fable, recalling the significant transformation that has affected Hell’s Kitchen in the last decade.
“Just 10 to 15 years ago, going out after 11 o’clock at night could be dangerous,” she said. “Now you can come home at two in the morning, and the streets are still busy. People that move in support local business, and we welcome this change.”
Yet gentrification has also meant that over the years the Fable family has seen many neighboring businesses leave, as old leases expired and landlords doubled or even tripled new rents.
“We have a pizza shop right next door to us, I think they pay $13,000 a month for rent. Well, how many pizzas do you have to cook to make a profit?” she asked. “We’ve stayed in business because this is our building.”
The bakery’s clientele reflects the shifts in Hell’s Kitchen’s demographics. Third- and sometimes fourth-generation Greek families flock to Poseidon from all over the tri-state area and Pennsylvania for traditional holiday breads. Over 300 packages are mailed at Christmas, New Year’s and Easter.
“I think the furthest package we sent was to Honolulu, Hawaii. There was a Greek church there, and they wanted Vasilopitas, New Year’s cakes with the coin,” said Lili Fable.
Greek ancestry is not the only reason that motivates customers to trek from out of state. “We live in New Jersey and sometimes we come to the City just for the bakery. It’s the best,”said Shirley Giammetta, 75, from Hasbruck Hights, who has been a customer for over 50 years. “I’m English and married to an Italian, we’ve been coming here since my daughter was 2, she is now 54.”
The Fable family also welcomes the neighborhood’s newest residents, who are often young couples.
“We come here because the coffee is really good, and we love their phyllo pastries. Last time they were closing for the weekend, so they gave us some food because it wasn’t going to be eaten anyway. It’s really nice,” said Meegan Davis, who moved to 45th Street and Ninth Avenue with her husband, Riley, just one year ago.
Other clients have been around since the eighties and are still amazed at the rapid transition.
“For a while it was difficult to even imagine living here, because it was so barren,” said Catherine Tyrrell, who has been in Hell’s Kitchen since 1988. “It’s a fascinating change to see how families can walk freely now,” she continued.
“I come to the bakery in part for the food, but also for the extraordinary people who own it and who I’ve known ever since I moved here. It’s a wonderful thing to have one thing you can come home to,” said Tyrrell.