Baker Jim Lahey is a familiar face around Hell’s Kitchen, and his award-winning Sullivan Street Bakery is a firm favorite in the neighborhood. This is Jim’s West Side Story.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I was born in Mineola, on Long Island. One of my first memories is when I went to the Pyramid Club with my friend Giro in 1982. He was a big performance theater and alternative music friend. I had been traveling to the city for many years as a teen to see concerts and sporting events, but this was the first time that I remember seeing an alternative, avant-garde performance of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Something about the venue and its seemingly risqué character resonated with me, and from that moment forward I knew that I was destined to inhabit this city.
What was your first job? What do you do now?
My first job in New York City was working for a restaurant named The New Nile Cafe, located on Warren Street in TriBeCa. At that point in time, restaurants were placed on darkened, seemingly abandoned streets, and at nighttime they would come to life and be filled with personalities: neighborhood fixtures, the crowd that was kind of making art and clubbing. I was a dishwasher and did a little bit of prep work.
Now, I run Sullivan Street Bakery, which I founded in 1994.
What’s your favorite New York minute (or moment) so far?
My favorite New York moment is the one that hasn’t happened yet. But in recent years, my favorite New York moment was giving bread and focaccia away in Times Square during the pandemic to anyone who wanted it for the Community Court. It was really cool because it brought me back to when I was baking in 1992. I was selling bread on Houston Street and Sullivan Street at an outdoor street market during its opening.
Share with us why you love Hell’s Kitchen
I like Hell’s Kitchen because it’s still kind of run down enough and I love Hell’s Kitchen because of its proximity to the creative community that lives in it: performers, writers…it’s full of character, in a sense. It’s not about the physical place but about the people in it. Hell’s Kitchen wears its hardships and its battle scars well because as a neighborhood it’s gone through so much hardship.
What’s your superpower or hidden talent?
I can sing well.
What else should we know about you?
I love to practice action meditation, otherwise known as kung fu.
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Jim’s Favorite Hell’s Kitchen Places
Joe Allen — 326 W46th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
I like Joe Allen because it’s survived the death of its owner and still has the same vibe and feeling. I like the simplicity of the menu and the food because it’s not trying too hard.
Pure Thai — 766 9th Avenue (bw W51/52nd St)
Quality and consistency of the food.
DeWitt Clinton Park — 11th Avenue and W54th Street
The garden and the flowers are beautiful and the dog walking community is very friendly.
Ardesia — 510 W52nd Street (bw 10/11th Ave)
I love the wine selection and the small plates are delicious and simple. It’s more like an updated tapas bar.
La Boîte — 724 11th Avenue (bw W51/52nd St)
I love looking, smelling, and tasting all of the spices that Lior makes.
Becco — 355 W46th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
I love the pasta buffet. The simplicity of the format of the menu and the feel of the space. The service and hospitality is really genuine. The wines are excellent. Good value.
You can check out more West Side Stories and reader recommendations on W42ST’s Hell’s Kitchen Local App.