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On Site: Back to the Grind

Margie Pensak

Chrein by any other name? A hot family business is making more than just maror

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

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T he “Eat More Horseradish” sign on the grounds of the Tulkoff Food Products plant outside Baltimore is not exactly subtle advertising, but the largest horseradish manufacturing plant in North America was never afraid of being on the sharp side.

After we enter the state-of-the-art facility, ranging over more than 80,000 square feet of a business park in suburban Dundalk, Maryland, we leave behind our jewelry and cell phones and suit up in white lab coats and red hair nets that designate our visitor status. We’re soon met by Meir (Michael) Tulkoff, director of specialty sales. He is more familiarly known as Magic Michael, and is famous in Israeli hospitals for helping raise the standards of medical clowning in Israel. In fact, he and his wife Debbie made aliyah 16 years ago, but when hospital budgets there were cut, he figured out a way of rejoining the family business without giving up the dream of living in Eretz Yisrael. He comes to the States twice a year for several weeks and works the rest of the time from his home in Rechovot via phone and e-mail.

Tulkoff — who became religious after college and spent the first three years after his wedding learning under Rabbi Nachman Bulman z”l in his kollel community in Migdal Ha’emek — grew up in a typical American Jewish traditional home, among family that was running a three-generations-old business. He points to a collection of photos, one of them taken in the early 1920s.

“My grandparents, Harry and Lena Tulkoff — Pop and Bubbe, who were Russian-born first cousins — are standing behind the counter of their small grocery store. On the counter, you can see individual eggs for sale, sweet butter, pot cheese, and Domino sugar priced at 18 cents a pound. There is some kind of netting over a product on the counter to keep the flies away.

 

“Bubbe had a side business of selling ground horseradish in paper boxes, and she also made borsht and other traditional foods. Family legend has it that one day, a woman walked into the grocery and pulled a piece of fruit out from the bottom of a perfectly stacked produce pyramid and knocked down the whole, neat pile. My grandfather blew his stack and said, ‘Forget it! What do we need this for? We’re just going to do what you make, Lena — horseradish!’

“By 1930, their horseradish became so popular that the Tulkoffs made it their exclusive product, under the name The New York Fruit Company, perhaps as a nod to where they were married in 1920. Its product line was expanded to include prepared white and red horseradish, relish, and horseradish mustard, among other food items. We’ve been OU certified since 1959, and before that, since the beginning, we were certified via local rabbis in Baltimore, like most kosher businesses before the advent of national certifiers. One of those local rabbis was Rabbi Samuel Pliskin z”l, father of the renowned Jerusalem-based author and therapist Rabbi Zelig Pliskin.”

Today Tulkoff Food Products produces and supplies condiments, sauces, dressings, and ingredients under its own label and for co-packing, supplying kosher and private brand markets across the US. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 664)

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