Living Next To

You can smell but you can't touch: Living atop a kosher bakery in Williamsburg

The front of the building isn't much to look at, but upstairs there's space and light galore, for those willing to endure the constant smell of yeast.

Kathryne Hunter/Brick Underground

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The idea of living above a challah factory might sound dreamy for about five seconds. But as publicist Kathryne Hunter has found out since she moved to a second-floor loft apartment above a kosher bakery in September 2016, the novelty of around-the-clock bread smells wears off quickly. We talked to Hunter about what drew her to the apartment and why, despite the olfactory assault and other assorted weirdness, she's staying for now.

Brooklyn calling

When I moved to Williamsburg I had been living in a dark shoebox of a starter apartment in Yorkville. I had wanted to live in Brooklyn for a while and no longer wanted to pay a premium to live in Manhattan, but essentially be in the East River. To find the apartment, I took to Facebook to find somewhere I could move quickly. I found a listing placed by a cute, hipster-looking brunette and her “tiny cat” in Williamsburg, visited, and we immediately clicked, so I decided to move in the following month. 

Red flags from the get-go

Despite how cool my roommate seemed, the biggest red flag is that the place looked sketchy as hell from the outside. It had no door numbers or buzzers/doorbells. When I came to check it out the first time, I was milling around outside drawn metal doors (it was a Saturday, meaning the bakery is shut tight as a drum, as its owners are Hasidic Jews), and eventually called my potential roommate. She had joked about how the building "looked like somewhere you’d lose all your limbs," a line I now use to break the ice whenever I bring new friends or dates over.

I ignored the crooked metal stairs and the fact that the entranceway seemed like it was about to collapse. Spoiler alert: this is still the case. I actually slipped down the stairs once and rocked some seriously bad facial wounds. 

The perks of loft living

Inside, things were looking up. The apartment was impossibly spacious compared to my digs at the time, gets tons of sunlight from both ends, and has rooftop access right outside the bedroom that was up for grabs. Bonus: The rent was significantly less than what I was shelling out at the time. I had also been wanting a cat of my own for years, so I was game for the prospect of being a card-carrying cat lady with none of the responsibility or financial burden.

Yeast-ern exposure 

Here’s what’s crazy: The bakery I live above isn’t actually a place you can walk into and buy bread. It’s a commercial bakery, so there’s this constant warm, delicious smell with none of the payoff. The owners have their guys working at all hours and I’ve had more than one Tinder date ask at inopportune times, "Is something burning?" Or ask whether there are any health risks associated with constantly breathing the smell of yeast. Also, the landlords’ office is located through the bakery, so anytime I need to speak to them about, for example, why it’s taken them three months to make a basic repair, I have to talk my way into the bakery and walk past giant conveyer belts of dough and shelves of freshly baked loaves, and I usually nearly slip on the flour-covered floor. 

Making friends

The hilarious parts of living here are mostly people’s reactions to the look and smell of the outside of my apartment, and my interactions with this large squad of Hasidic Jewish men, a religious sect known for its conservatism and social seclusion. I’ve shared a cigarette with various of them and learned that they have owned the place for three generations, since the 1930s. They’re hilariously grumpy, but generally leave me in peace as long as I do the same.

Souring on dough

My view on bread has taken a turn. Since I’ve lived here, I’ve seen bread in all kinds of disarray, and there is seemingly little regard for the congregations of pigeons outside our doors. Sometimes I leave in the morning to find a bunch of bread crusts (just the circular crusts, with the insides missing) strewn around the sidewalk being demolished by pigeons. Sometimes there will be a dumpster full of discarded rolls or loaves. I still love the smell of bread, but I don’t like eating rolls or buying a loaf of bread anymore.

However, with all of this said, I like living here and don’t plan to move anytime soon. It’s a steal for a huge bedroom on a central stretch in Williamsburg. Even with the 24/7 smell of yeast, I’m so lucky to get to live here!