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'Dough' Tells Story of a Bakery with a Secret

Author Mort Zachter, right, with the current owners of the Ninth Street Bakery, Oleg and Tetyana Kucherenko.
Author Mort Zachter, right, with the current owners of the Ninth Street Bakery, Oleg and Tetyana Kucherenko.

For anyone who lives paycheck to paycheck, Mort Zachter's story might seem like dream come true:

In 1994, a banker called Zachter's home and asked him if he'd like to take control of his Uncle Harry's million-dollar money-market account. It turned out that two of his uncles had quietly amassed about $6 million, scattered in separate accounts.

Zachter's windfall let him pursue his dream of writing. His new book Dough: A Memoir, is the culmination of that dream. It's also a story of daily life at the family's bakery from the 1940s through the '60s and a snapshot of immigrant life in New York.

After his windfall, Zachter delved into his family's secrets. He never found out why his uncle sat on his wealth rather than helping the family, but he realized that his uncles — like other children of immigrants who had survived the Depression — had a complicated relationship with money.

His uncles Harry and Joe drafted most of the family to work at bakery, which sold bread they bought wholesale from other city bakeries. Zachter's mother — his uncles' sister — gave up her dream of teaching to work at the bakery.

Her payment was leftover bread at the end of the workday. Zachter's father pitched in after his regular hours as an insurance claims examiner. Zachter grew up sleeping in the dinette of his parents' one-bedroom apartment, with his head next to the refrigerator.

Though Zachter's uncles weren't generous with their own family, they were magnanimous with their patrons. They helped pay their patrons' bills and they would often change the price of bread depending on what they knew customers could afford.

Though Zachter could be bitter about his family's years of scrimping and financial secrets,Dough shows affection for his quirky uncles and his close-knit family as they run a beloved family business.

Jacki Lyden visited Zachter at the bakery in New York, which is now under new ownership.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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