Rainbow Bakery celebrates 100 years in business

By Pam Schiff
Posted 7/4/17

By PAM SCHIFF To find some perspective on how long 100 years is: It is 876,000 hours, 36,500 days, or in the case of Rainbow Bakery is it almost 10 million bagels. Yes, million. Today, the bakery is run by Murray Kaplan, grandson and nephew of the

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Rainbow Bakery celebrates 100 years in business


To find some perspective on how long 100 years is: It is 876,000 hours, 36,500 days, or in the case of Rainbow

Bakery is it almost 10 million bagels. Yes, million.

Today, the bakery is run by Murray Kaplan, grandson and nephew of the original founders.

The Kaplan family has recently been honored by the R.I. General Assembly on May 25, and more recently by the Cranston City Council on June 26 to honor their milestone accomplishment of 100 years in business. And it is the last Jewish bakery in the state.

Rainbow Bakery was established in 1917 by Russian immigrants Abraham and Samuel Kaplan, who were originally grain millers back in the Ukraine. Upon their arrival in Providence, in 1912, they quickly went about setting up business.

Murray still uses the recipes from his 'Zaide' (grandfather), but confesses that his father had to translate them to English from the Russian and Yiddish they were in originally. 

"In the very beginning, there were bagels, sissel (rye) bread and challahs. These were the staples people were looking for. They reminded them of 'home', it was familiar food," said Murray.

Back then, there were only five types of bagels, plain, poppy and sesame seeds, onion and egg. Now, Rainbow makes almost a dozen different flavors.

While the bakery in Cranston still provides personal, customized service, they also have a successful wholesale business selling to supermarkets, bakeries, hotels, delis, gourmet stores and restaurants.

As times changed, people would be looking for convenience over taste. "People today are too busy to shop in more than one or two stores, they will shop in supermarkets for bakery items," said Deby Kaplan, who is Murray’s wife.

Murray started working in the bakery when he was 10 years old. He would go to the bakery in the morning, before school, then go back after school. "I would mix the base for the rye breads, then have to do it again four hours later. Then I could go home, do my homework and go to sleep. That was my life, everyday," he said. On the weekends there was no school to break up the day.

When the business first moved to Cranston in 1954 the clientele was mostly non-Jews Murray stated. "We weren't considered kosher because we didn't close on Shabbat [the time period every week from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown], Pesach (Passover). We catered to the wants and needs of our customers," he said.

Just six weeks before the new bakery building at 800 Reservoir Ave. was scheduled to open, Murray's father, Barney passed away from a heart attack when Murray was only 16 years old. 

Murray graduated from Cranston East in 1966, he went on to join the navy and did he tours of duty in Spain on the USS FDR. While he was in service, his mother Leah and brother Daniel were in charge of the bakery.

After his commitment to the Navy was over, he came back to the bakery without a second thought. "I never thought about college, I put family needs ahead of my personal ones," Murray said.

At this time he and Deby had married in 1968 and were starting their family; son Scott, their oldest child who is the Director of Marketing and Business Development at Coventry Credit Union, Melissa is an Emmy-winning music writer, and Annie is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Connecticut in structural biology and biophysics.

"We never intended for the children to taken over the business. We told them, this is no life for you. Education, education, education," said Deby. 

"I don't want them to have the life I had, the hours I had. I missed a social life, I missed my two oldest children growing up completely, I lost time with my wife," said Murray.

A typical day for Murray starts with getting to the bakery for 3:30 am, lighting the ovens and boilers, getting the breads, rolls and bagels into the proofer, his help comes in at 5 a.m., they start boiling and baking the bagels, prepare the donuts for frying, he takes an inventory of the freezer and the store, checks the register for previous day's business, then it is time to open.

The Kaplan family is grateful for the family of friends and customers they have cultivated over the years. 

"We have a Rabbi who rides his bike to the store once a week, he lives in Plymouth, Massachusetts, but is in Providence to teach. We have shipped four large sissel breads to California for a customer. The shipping charge was outrageous, but he didn't care. We bake 60 sissels every year for the St. Stanilaus festival. At Easter time people come from Warwick, Coventry, West Warwick to buy the rye bread and get their tables blessed," said Deby.

One of the highlights of Murray's baking career was being commissioned to bake a cake of the Rhode Island State House for the Bicentennial in 1976.

The children all have their own feelings about the bakery and how hard their parents work.

"Anytime I stop in lately all I can think of is how I should truly enjoy and savor each bite because the time will come when I won't ever be able to have these same things made the same way. We have been as a people, very conscious of tradition, however something has been lost in this last generation and a lot of the tradition we have known and loved is no longer. Thankfully, there is a new generation discovering what the previous ones once knew. They appreciate quality over convenience, and don't mind paying a little more as long as they know they are getting more. To those out there who "used to come", we invite you back. We are here, we have always been here...feed your memories and your soul, before you can no longer do so," said Scott.

“I am very proud of my parents accomplishments. The bakery had been a part of our family for so long and has taught us all so much. I grew up in that place, met so many lovely people from behind the counter and shared many fond memories with friends and family. [I even met my husband there]. It has been a family staple not only for us, but also for many of our clientele," said Annie.

Melissa, who can still be seen every once in a while at the bakery thinks it is an amazing milestone.

"They work[ed] so hard, this is such a hard thing to do everyday, I am so happy for them," she said.

As for the future of the bakery itself, Murray would like to sell it as a running business and stay on as a consultant.

"I am ready for the next chapter of my life. It's time to relax. I've paid my dues, I have no regrets or reservations. I owe it to myself and my wife," he said.

Rainbow Bakery is still located at 800 Reservoir Ave. in Cranston.


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