The wild bears around Lake Tahoe have always loved Ernie Feld’s poppy seed strudel. Now humans across the country are catching on.
In the last few days, the 90-year-old Feld has been deluged with calls and visitors from as far away as Chicago, Los Angeles and the East Coast. Newspaper readers now want Feld’s pastries sent to them by air mail.
They don’t want to have to break into the shop, as the bears have done.
But hurry, they plead, before the strudel gets stale.
Feld, the subject of a Los Angeles Times profile earlier this month, once made his signature strudel for Nazi SS officers, who held him captive as their personal baker during the final years of World War II.
Much of his family -- including his beloved mother, Sara -- died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Fled survived because of his baking skills.
The story was circulated nationwide on the Times' news service.
Within hours, the phone at Ernie’s International Pastries started ringing.
People walked into the shop in Incline Village, Nev., a copy of the story in hand. Others sent emails about long-lost relatives.
In World War II, Feld was held at a makeshift airport in Budapest, helping to feed the Nazi officers. The Times story -- and this one -- included a picture of Feld back then, with other prisoners.
Readers wanted to know if he remembered their father or grandfather.
One woman said she recognized her father in the photo -- a tall U.S. serviceman captured by the Nazis who always smoked a pipe.
Feld likes to please his customers, but with 200 prisoners, he doesn’t remember the fellow.
Feld’s tiny shop on the north shore of Lake Tahoe used to go hours without a customer. Now, people are waiting when he and his wife, Marika, open their doors at 10 a.m.
Many want to hear Feld’s stories, or enjoy his wry sense of humor.
But mostly, they want to buy his strudel.
“They come for the wedding cake, the strudel, the lemon Napoleons, anything you want,” he told The Times. “I’m happy, my wife is happy and everyone is happy.”
Well, maybe everyone except the bears.
In the original story, Feld told of encountering four bears that had broken into the shop in just one season, including a large male that Feld met face-to-face in his kitchen. He scared off the bear, and later helped officials catch two others by baiting a trap with his poppy-seed strudel.
"Those bears must be Jewish," he said. "One came in for a meal and went home to tell his family, 'There's very good strudel there.'"
Now the animal invaders are gone, replaced by human ones.
Said Feld: “They all want my strudel.”