Today we salute Fawzy Abdelwahed (born September 28, 1973), who, along with his wife Ola, owns and runs the much beloved East Village restaurant, B&H Dairy.
Fawzy’s is a true New York story featuring a Muslim born in Egypt and a former Catholic born in Poland who worked across the street from one another, fell in love, were married, and then became co-owners of a much beloved East Village restaurant, B & H Dairy. B&H is a Kosher restaurant at 127 2nd Avenue between 7th Street and St. Mark’s Place which has served generations of Lower East Side and East Village residents and New Yorkers from every walk of life for over 82 years. B&H Dairy received Village Preservation’s prestigious Village Award in 2017.
Fawzy Abdelwahed was born in Port Said, Egypt, where he worked in kitchens serving an international clientele. When he was a student, he worked part time and full time in hotels and restaurants. In 1993 he began to work on a cruise ship that traveled the Mediterranean, between Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Turkey. He subsequently took a job on a cruise line that brought him to Baltimore, MD. He loved the United States so much, and had dreamed for so many years of visiting, that once here, he decided to stay. He ultimately left the cruise ship business and found work in the East Village at Halal Snack. Halal Snack was directly next door to B&H Dairy where he would eat after his shifts. Fawzy eventually became part-owner of Halal Snack, and when the opportunity arose in 2003, he took over as owner of B&H Dairy.
B&H Dairy Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant is one of the last “dairy” lunch counters in New York City. The Restaurant has been here since 1938 and still serves the same menu of Eastern European comfort food like pierogi, blintzes, knish, latkes, stuffed cabbage, soups, breakfast and juices to a very loyal following of generations of customers. Fawzy and Ola pride themselves in both the continuity of the menu and recipes that B&H uses, and the community of people who enjoy their time in this tiny East Village institution.
The COVID-19 pandemic hurt B&H Dairy, as it has all of our beloved small businesses. B&H went from serving 200 customers a day in early March, 2020, to zero customers after the lockdown. They were able to reopen for take-out and delivery in mid-May, but the restaurant suffered a 90% loss in business. Nonetheless, Fawzy and Ola admirably continued to pay their loyal employees throughout the closure and the slow down in business. After outdoor seating became a possibility, they began serving as many as 65 customers daily.
This isn’t Ola and Fawzy and B&H’s first time dealing with hardship and shutdowns. After the deadly Second Avenue has explosion in 2015, which took two lives and destroyed two buildings just a few doors down from them, they had to shut their doors for months. They were still recovering in many ways when COVID hit. Things are picking up and B&H is OK for now, but it’s hard to predict how winter will affect the business. Due to bad weather, reduced or no outdoor seating, and reduction in take-out and delivery customers, the future for B & H and other small businesses seems unsure at best.
Fawzy and Ola’s hope is that after the COVID-19 pandemic is over, life will return to how it was before the pandemic, where customers can once again be shoulder to shoulder, eating, meeting, and laughing at the counter. Meanwhile, a blintz can’t hurt! Visit B&H at 127 Second Avenue, just south of St. Marks Place, and indulge in one of their scrumptious blintzes, soups, omelettes, pierogies, or whatever suites your fancy! Eat in their sweet outside space, or order for delivery. Tell them Village Preservation sent you!
Village Preservation conducted an oral history with Fawzy and Ola. In the oral history they discuss running B&H Dairy since 2003 and the challenges they have faced, including the near-destruction of their space and closure for months as a after the 2015 2nd Avenue gas explosion. You can read or listen to their story here.