S&S Cheesecake has been a staple at its Riverdale location, 222 West 238th Street, for generations. As Yair Ben Zaken, the bakery’s current owner, says, he followed in the footsteps of his father-in-law, Fred Schuster, who was a Holocaust survivor who escaped from Germany. After settling in Manhattan, he worked in a bakery and perfected his skills as a baker.
In 1960, Shuster opened his first bakery where he was making all the necessary staples expected at a bakery: danishes, bread, cakes and cookies. With support from the neighborhood, the bakery thrived. But soon, Schuster noticed that the cheesecakes were the bestsellers. This prompted a switch for the bakery to specialize exclusively in cheesecakes, and S&S Cheesecake was born, a name inspired by the German phrase, “eat and eat,” as Ben Zaken says, but his father-in-law says it was in honor of his wife, who passed away this month, Sidi Schuster.
Ben Zaken joined his father-in-law in 1986 to build upon the legacy of his mentor. Since he’s joined, he’s invested in technologies to improve and expedite the output. With the help of better mixers, machines, ovens and other appliances, S&S Cheesecake has been said to be the best cheesecake anyone has ever tasted. In fact, Ben Zaken says that “we’ve grown tremendously until we couldn’t handle it,” requiring an investment in a property outside New York to handle massive orders in the thousands.
During the recession, however, the business suffered. The trucking company responsible for hauling orders went out of business and their wholesale operation fell with it. It was then time for Ben Zaken to focus on retail, which he says is “booming,” and is still hopeful that wholesale opportunities will arise.
In the meantime, S&S Cheesecake, an unassuming building situated in Central Riverdale, has been rated #1 by Zagat on multiple occasions, and Time Magazine’s food critic has also rated it #1. Past presidents such as Richard Nixon and George Bush have enjoyed the cakes—and the cake has been served at the United Nations as well. They see many advertising inquiries and see a lot of foot traffic during the holidays, like Shavuot, winter holidays and Thanksgiving.
S&S Cheesecake is known as the best cheesecake in the business, and therefore if you’re unable to make it to their establishment in Riverdale, you can find some of the cakes at high-end specialty stores.
Ben Zaken is proud when talking about the man who inspired him to go into the business. “My father-in-law has been [baking] since he has been a kid. He’s 92 and he’s still coming [around].”
Currently, S&S specializes in plain and flavored cakes that include popular styles like pineapple, cherry, strawberry and a mouse chocolate cheesecake. Expansion is certainly possible too.
Recently, unfortunate times have hit the S&S Cheesecake family, with the passing of Sidi Schuster, and Ben Zaken’s own father, Morris, just a few days later. May Hashem comfort the family among other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
By Tamar Weinberg