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Beloved Houston Bakery Stripped of Kosher License in Controversial Move, But This Institution is Fighting (and Baking) On

Devastating Flooding From Hurricane Harvey Started This Saga, Ending 70 Year Kosher Run for Three Brothers Bakery

BY // 05.17.19

Three Brothers Bakery has been a mainstay in Houston for 70 years. From cupcakes to custom creations, the kosher bakery has brought the sweet stuff, with rave reviews.

Earlier this month, Three Brothers got a taste of its own treats. The bakers crafted a custom cake for themselves — a considerable change from their usual approach. But when it’s your 70th Anniversary, you go all out.

“We actually had a great cake. Normally our cakes for ourselves are an afterthought. But we actually thought about it. It was adorable. I was more excited about that cake than my own wedding cake,” laughs Janice Jucker, who owns Three Brothers with her husband, fifth-generation baker Bobby Jucker.

The red, black and white multi-tiered masterpiece was topped off with three fondant figures: the original Three Brothers themselves. Sigmund, Sol and Max were a trio of determined and resilient Holocaust survivors.

Three Brothers, which now has three locations, had already received an epic birthday gift: the SBA Family Business of The Year award. You could say it’s not every day that a family-owned bakery wins that honor — but then, they have won it before, back in 2013.

But life is a give and take. They may have earned that nod, but they lost something, too. In the midst of their epic milestone celebration, Three Brothers received some devastating — if not wholly unexpected — news.

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They had lost their kosher license.

The Juckers weren’t blindsided. They knew they took a risk. But the news, delivered to the community during their festivities, knocked the wind out of them.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever had a boyfriend before that you really like, and they dump you and you get this gut feeling, this awful feeling in your gut,” Janice Jucker says. “That’s the way it felt. I know my husband felt that, too.”

It wasn’t just losing the kosher license after 70 years. The Jucker brothers had mastered their baking skills in Poland before the war, at Morris Jucker’s Bakery in Chrzanow. Their kosher history goes back 200 years.

Three Brothers’ license was revoked because the Juckers stayed open for retail business during the eight days of Passover, which is strictly forbidden.

They felt they had no choice. The Juckers are still paying off disaster loans from Hurricane Harvey, when the bakery took in 4.5 feet of water and forced to close for 17 long days. And that was far from the first flood they’d endured.

“We’ve been through four floods, a fire and a hurricane, and now the loss of our kosher certification. And we’re still here,” Janice Jucker says.

But the Houston Kashruth Association couldn’t make an exception.

“While they understood our current circumstances, because of our financial predicament, being open for business on Passover is completely non-negotiable,” Janice Jucker notes.

“We knew that we would most likely lose our license. We knew that when we made this decision.”

three brothers bakery cookies
Cookies galore.

This is a business built by survivors, and this was just the next step.

“We could be a permanently closed kosher bakery, or we could be a bakery making Jewish-style baked goods and employing 65 people,” Janice Jucker says. “We chose the latter.”

Three Brothers had seen a drop off in kosher sales in the past few years, anyhow. “There’s this ‘Not Kosher Enough’ movement. So for years, the bakery was kosher enough. Now it’s ‘not kosher enough’ anymore,” Janice Jucker says.

“Some people moved to town, and they decided that because we’re open on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, we’re not kosher enough. We had a lot of business for kosher events. That’s been slower as of late. We kind of feel like it’s because the ‘Not Kosher Enough’ people go to these events,” she adds.

So while it’s possible that the Juckers could get their kosher license back — even though it might be an uphill battle — because they are not willing to close on the Sabbath and Passover.

“When you put pencil to paper, we had to consider the amount of money the kosher piece was bringing in, plus closing on Passover and being in a financial bind,” Janice Jucker says.

The Non Kosher Reality

Becoming non-kosher will take some adjustment. They’re brainstorming ideas to make up for lost revenue, but being open Passover will help. They’re also considering corporate boxed lunches.

There’s been an outpouring of love from the community.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by support,” Jancie Jucker tells PaperCity. “People that haven’t been to the bakery for a while, people that have never been to the bakery before are specifically coming to support us.”

Janice Jucker is grateful for the continued support, and she recognizes that many other small business are suffering in disaster-provoked areas may be in dire financial straits. She’s become an outspoken advocate.

Just before the birthday celebration, she and her husband, Bobby, visited Washington, D.C., where she spoke with Texas lawmakers and stakeholders on Capitol Hill. Three Brothers’ legacy and commitment even inspired Visa.

She also judged a National Small Business Week Hackathon sponsored by the SBA and Visa, with the topic on disaster recovery.

“They met us when we got the 2018 Phoenix Award for small business disaster recovery. We talked to them about starting a movement to shop disaster zones,” Janice Jucker says.

David Simon, Visa SVP and global head of small business and medium enterprises, was intrigued by the concept.

“He said ‘You know, we like that idea. We’re going to throw some resources at it.’ And he threw some resources at it,” she adds.

Visa launched a website that lists the names of all businesses in federally declared disaster zones over the past three-month period.

“You can go to the website, go to one of those towns. Shop with them. Help them get back on their feet,” Janice Jucker says.

“If you’ve never been to a small business in your area, go shop with them, because they need you. They need you because you’re going to be the reason that they’re open for generations.”

Family is at the heart of everything Three Brothers does, and some of Janice Jucker’s favorite memories over the past 70 years are about exactly that.

Her absolute favorite memory was of a gender reveal some years ago. The bakery was busy filming a commercial for another company when a woman came in.

Someone at the door asked her if she minded waiting while they filmed.

“And she said, ‘No, I have to come in now. I’m going to find out the gender of my new grandbaby. Right now,’” Janice Jucker laughs.

Her daughter, the mother of the new grand baby, had called Three Brothers earlier. She’d just learned she was having a girl, and wanted to surprise her mother with a chocolate ripple fudge cake that said ‘It’s a girl!’ in pink icing.

“So this woman comes in, the grandmother, and she brings in her mother — the great grandmother. Then the mother called on the phone with her unborn baby. Four generations in one moment. It was about four generations of women at that moment. For me, that’s one of my favorite memories,” Janice Jucker says.

That’s the refrain in all of her treasured ones. “Someone proposed in our Washington location. I had never actually seen anyone propose before. I was just so happy all day long. It was so cool to watch that,” she says.

The bride-to-be was either an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Her boyfriend had commissioned a cake that looked like an eye chart — only the letters, getting smaller and smaller, read “Jen, will you marry me?”

Three Brothers is proud to be part of those moments — and of themselves for having endured everything and coming out the other side.

“We’re survivors here. That’s the history of Three Brothers Bakery,” Janice Jucker says. “What I’m most proud of is that we’ve kept the legacy of the three brothers going. The fact that we’re still here is something to be proud of.”

Home, chic home.

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