Brook­lyn’s Joyva Has a Hel­luva Hal­vah Story

Forward Magazine - - Shima Now - By Amy Oringel

My grand­fa­ther used to in­tro­duce him­self this way: “I’m Danny Oringel and I’m in cof­fee.” He was from a time and place where you didn’t “work” at some­thing, you were “in” some­thing. My friend’s grand­fa­ther was in mat­tresses. An­other was in meat. Over time, th­ese busi­nesses typ­i­cally were sold or ceased op­er­a­tions as the younger gen­er­a­tions reaped the ben­e­fits of their Amer­i­can up­bring­ings and ed­u­ca­tions. For ex­am­ple, my fa­ther did not choose to be in cof­fee; in­stead, he got a Mas­ter of Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion, put on his white ox­fords and tie ev­ery day and headed to his of­fice at IBM. For 47 years. But what hap­pens when the clas­sic Jew­ish im­mi­grant busi­ness story con­tin­ues? En­ter Joyva, the cen­tury-plus hal­vah main­stay, an in­spi­ra­tional tale that weaves fam­ily loy­alty with hard work.

It’s not a great as­sump­tion to say that most of us would find work­ing side by side with our clos­est rel­a­tives to be, well, chal­leng­ing. For the Radutzky fam­ily, the op­po­site seems to be true. Nathan Radutzky came to this coun­try from Kiev in 1907, armed with lit­tle more than a killer hal­vah recipe. He honed it while sell­ing from push­carts on Man­hat­tan’s Lower East Side; then, in the late 1920s, he was able to build a fac­tory in Brook­lyn, where he pro­duced a va­ri­ety of fla­vors and shapes of the Old World sesame-based treat. Nathan and Rae Radutzky had four boys who, de­spite for­ays into other fields (son Harry gave med­i­cal school a brief shot), all de­cided to join the com­pany.

Ini­tially called In­de­pen­dent Hal­vah & Candies in the 1950s it was re­named Joyva (merg­ing the pa­tri­arch’s grand­daugh­ter’s name, Roslyn Joy, with, yes, hal­vah) and branded with the Mid­dle East­ern sul­tan logo that still adorns the Joyva pack­ag­ing. Jelly rings and marsh­mal­low twists fol­lowed, and when the candies were cer­ti­fied kosher for Passover in the 1960s, busi­ness of­fi­cially boomed.

Fam­ily leg­end has it that the four Radutzky broth­ers, whose painted por­traits adorn a wall of Joyva’s clut­tered, un­pre­ten­tious of­fice in Brook­lyn, ex­pe­ri­enced nary a squab­ble. To­day Richard Radutzky, son of Mil­ton, the youngest of the four broth­ers (and the last to pass away, in 2015 at age 93), and his cousin Sandy Wiener, grand­son of Alex, the el­dest brother, run Joyva.

“There was a cul­ture of mu­tual re­spect in that we ap­pre­ci­ated what they had built and they were proud that we weren’t a cou­ple of young hot­heads,” Richard Radutzky said. “Hav­ing us there just brought them joy. There was a lot of kvel­ling.”

While the staffing has changed and the av­er­age age of man­age­ment de­creased sig­nif­i­cantly, much of the phys­i­cal op­er­a­tion has re­mained ex­actly the same. This is not a fac­tory out of “The Jet­sons”; it takes up over 100,000 square feet across four ware­houses in Brook­lyn’s East Wil­liams­burg, and re­sem­bles a huge sheet metal mouse­trap.

The 3 mil­lion to 4 mil­lion pounds of sesame seeds the com­pany im­ports each year are sent through a mul­ti­stage process that would make Rube Gold­berg proud. The outer layer, or hull, is re­moved. The seeds are dunked in salt water, stirred in fresh water, fed

into roast­ing ovens and, in the case of tahini, ground be­tween hot stones. To make hal­vah, the seeds are ground up us­ing a col­lec­tion of gi­gan­tic mor­tars and pes­tles.

Radutzky and Weiner have tread cau­tiously when in­tro­duc­ing new con­cepts. They suc­cess­fully in­cor­po­rated small tech­nol­ogy up­grades (read: a fax ma­chine), then for other ad­vance­ments, like com­put­ers, soft­ware and cus­tom­ized billing.

“For a while there was an old-school ver­sus new-school dy­namic, but it’s not like there was pal­pa­ble ten­sion,” Radutzky said. “They were con­tent, but we wanted to be a lit­tle more am­bi­tious.”

It seems as though the Radutzky clan turned out not only hal­vah but also men­sches. Nathan Radutzky was one of the orig­i­nal founders of what is now Brook­dale Hos­pi­tal, in Brook­lyn’s Brownsville (home of the Radutzky Emer­gency Care Pavil­ion). He also helped to found the Yeshiva of Crown Heights. More re­cently, when Richard Radutzky dis­cov­ered that a new lo­cal com­pany called Seed + Mill was mak­ing ar­ti­sanal hal­vah, he reached out to them to give ad­vice.

Seed + Mill founder Lisa Men­del­son said: “When Richard first called I was a lit­tle sur­prised, but it takes just two min­utes to re­al­ize he’s this warm, gen­uine per­son. And Sandy is, too. They are too good to be true; I found my­self think­ing there has to be a catch.” Ap­par­ently there wasn’t. While Joyva could never be mis­taken for a cut­ting-edge com­pany, Radutzky and Weiner have been suc­cess­ful in pro­mot­ing new takes on their very Old World prod­ucts. Jelly rings are now sold in snack packs for school lunches. And “nana candy,” the plas­tic-wrapped sesame seed hard candies your grand­mother kept in a cut glass bowl, can now be found at Dy­lan’s Candy Bar and along­side Swedish fish and Smar­ties at bulk candy shops.

“Peo­ple are more re­cep­tive than ever to prod­ucts that are a lit­tle out­side the box,” Radutzky said. “But suc­cess only comes if your com­pany can de­liver on taste, a com­pelling story and eth­i­cal prac­tices. Just by virtue of who we are, Joyva re­flects all of the above. It’s in our blood.”

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