Name: Allison "Allie" Shapiro
Major: History, concentration in Diplomatic History; minor in Consumer Psychology
Hometown: New York City, New York
Activities: President of Penn Hillel, member of Shabbatones, former communications director of Penn Appétit, Gourmand podcast team member, Sigma Delta Tau sorority member, and former style beat for 34th Street Magazine.
Street: One glance at your activities list and it's clear that you're a true foodie. When did this love begin? Is there a moment to which you can trace back your interest in food?
Allie Shapiro: I don't know if this is typical for everyone, but every single memory that I have is associated with a flavor. Days spent outside during the summer, I think of the blue ice pop that I would have. My first trip to Disney World and the soft pretzel that I ate. I think that my obsession began right when I came out of the womb. A more formal memory I can think of is in fifth grade, where every single night I was up until 11 or 12 at night in my kitchen alone, baking. I remember I was learning how to decorate cakes and I made a cake for my teacher’s mother–in–law’s birthday because I just loved making cake and I had no one to bake for. I was dying to find people who would accept my cakes. She was definitely really weirded out when I showed up with a cake. She was like, 'How did you know it was my mother–in–law's birthday?' I remember showing up to the doctor in fifth grade and my doctor said, 'Your daughter has not grown an inch and has gained 25 pounds. What happened?' My mom answered, 'She realized that if she’s the one baking the desserts she can eat a whole tray, but if we give her desserts she can only have one cookie.'
Street: Last year you wrote about your family Shabbat meal for our fall Dining Guide. Can you expand on the importance of food in your family?
AS: I think food for a lot of religious communities is a very strong part of the life. There is not a Jewish holiday that I can think of that I can’t associate with a food. Shabbat is one of them. Every big celebration and momentous occasion is celebrated with tons of food. More generally, my grandpa’s best quote is: 'There are those who eat to live, and there are those who live to eat—and the Shapiros live to eat.'
Street: You spent two summers working in the Tel Aviv food industry. What was that like? How is it different from America's?
AS: Working in Tel Aviv was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had—it’s so much more casual. It’s such a start–up environment. Everyone around you is doing such interesting things and I think that trickles into the food industry—that scrappy, young, hungry mindset is definitely relevant to the food scene. The other thing I would say that is unique to the Tel Aviv food scene is that a lot of people think of Israeli food as falafel or hummus, but that’s only half of the story. [Israel has] this incredibly complex food scene where you have people from all over the world contributing stuff from their culture that they’ve picked up and innovated it to fit into a framework that they are now bringing and presenting in Israel. One of my favorite foods in Israel is Sabich, which I think is the only true Israeli food—basically it’s a sandwich with fried eggplant. It was created by Iraqi Jews who came to Israel and brought with them this tradition that you would have food like eggplant on Friday night. Then, you would wake up the next morning and you’d put it on a pre–existing flame like a hot plate or a fire that was already burning, crisp it up really thin, and stick it in pita for breakfast. It’s a food that has stayed with Israeli people. My favorite Sabich place has lines out the door everyday. It’s just a really interesting food scene where nothing is truly Israeli. It reminds me of America, but a lot of food [in Israel] is also associated with history that you get from being a diaspora Jew.
Street: What were you doing those two summers in Israel?
AS: The first summer, I was working for a food tour company that gave tours of the Tel Aviv shouk, the market. They were expanding and the head of the tour company wanted to find a way to standardize her tours. She basically wanted me to write out a script, so I went on a bajillion tours and tried every single food on those tours. I ended up compiling a manual for tour guides so that they could be trained in a seamless way and be historically accurate. As a history major, that also made me pretty happy. That’s where I learned about the story of Sabich, actually. My sophomore year, I was working at this company called The Bridge by Coca Cola. It's basically Turner, Mercedes Benz, Walmart, and Coca Cola coming together. They were searching for a way to bridge the Israel start–up scene with America’s corporate culture and looking to find a middle man. My company was that middle man looking to find start–ups that could help suit corporate needs, so I was working to find start–ups, and doing marketing work for the incubator.
Street: This summer you started your own business called BakeShap, which has already been featured in the New York Times and on Good Morning America. Can you tell me more about the mission of the company and what inspired you to start it?
AS: It was during the pandemic and I just started baking; that’s my hobby and that’s my passion and I never have any time for it. I finally had all this time during quarantine and I just found myself baking food that was comforting to me. One of the most comforting things for me is having challah on the Friday night table. I love having big Shabbat dinners with many guests which is obviously something we couldn’t do during the pandemic, so I was baking a lot of challah and babka for me and my family. I started giving it away to a lot of friends. Then one week I posted on Instagram, 'If anyone needs a challah for Shabbat let me know.' Someone wrote back asking how much I was charging. A few weeks later someone asked for a menu, so I quickly went on Canva and created one. It just grew from there. I started a second Instagram account and none of this was intentional. None of this was about wanting to start a baking company. It was very much about how much I love doing this and then it got to the point where my home kitchen turned into a commercial one. Once a day I would call my parents asking them how this happened to me. I sold to a girl whose older sister is in the food industry and her best friend was a writer for the New York Times who just happened to be writing an article about home businesses starting in the time of the coronavirus. This girl was like, 'You should cold email her, I know she’s writing this article.' So I cold emailed her and she ended up featuring me in the New York Times! From there, Good Morning America found me. Then, this app called WoodSpoon found me, which is basically an UberEats platform, but for home chefs. From there, I connected with an app called Eatwith, which is basically a platform dedicated to home chefs or chefs in local communities hosting experiences for tourists or cooking classes online. It’s grown from there, I actually did an interview yesterday with Fox5 News NYC. It’s growing. I’m actually back home this weekend to continue baking.
Street: Tell us about the Penn food scene. What was it like to work as the communication director for Penn Appétit and to contribute to the Whisk cookbook?
AS: I kind of thought that Whisk was this crazy concept that was never going to come to fruition. I look back on what we accomplished and what I was able to contribute to and I’m like, 'How in the world did fifteen Penn students pull off this project?' I remember we were cooking in the [Alpha Phi sorority] house in the basement because I was a [first–year] and I didn’t have a kitchen. Someone accidentally set off the house's smoke detector! There weren't flames, but the fire department had to come. At that moment, I was like, 'this project is crazy. What are we doing?' That was a huge growing experience.
I would be contributing these recipes and going to these Whisk meetings with Nutella–stuffed brownies with Oreos or s'mores chocolate chip cookies. I’m a home baker. I'm like a mother and I’m cooking the food that I want my children to eat one day. I'm making what any mom would. I have a sickly sweet tooth, so nothing was gourmet or fancy. It was just what I would want my birthday cake to taste like. It was so cool to hone in on that and find my style of baking. Then, some of the members were like, 'You should definitely apply to Board!' Anyone who has been on Penn Appétit Board will tell you it’s just the most loving community ever. Communications Director was an awesome position that I got to grow into. Penn Appétit is a huge club, so I had to make sure everyone felt involved and aware of what was going on. We would go to Restaurant Week or do amazing potlucks where I would bring brownies and the current president of the club would have sourdough, an entire roast beef, and homemade mustard—[making us think] 'where and when did you do this?' It definitely gave me a lot of space as a chef. The pre–professionalism that draws people to finance and consulting is amazing, but there’s also this whole world of people who love food and what they’re doing in the food industry is just awesome.
Street: Any advice for other students trying to break into the food industry?
AS: There’s no such thing as networking in the food world. Go to your favorite restaurant and meet with the [general manager] or cold email. They’ll be happy to speak to you and they love to hear from students in the food world. That’s something someone from Penn Appétit taught me—if you love a restaurant, tell them, meet with them, and learn from them because the restaurant world is brutal.The other thing is to make time to bake and eat. Some of my best meals are like the ones at a Penn Appétit potluck. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy.
Street: Favorite thing to bake?
AS: Babka. S’mores Babka.
Street: If you were a building on campus, which one would you be and why?
AS: One of the high–rises because as a little kid I was so awkwardly tall and I stuck out like a sore thumb.
Street: Best take–out in Philly?
AS: The Igloo fro–yo. Hot take.
Street: There are two types of people at Penn…
AS: Those who forget to eat because they’re too busy working, and those who forget to work because they’re too busy eating.
Street: And you are?
AS: If anyone falls into the first category and wants to hit me up, I’m curious to know what that feels like.
Note: this interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.