Essen Bakery offers up sweet treats to aid with Rare Disease Day

Essen Bakery rare disease day
Mike Prince

Essen Bakery owner Tova du Plessis recently took to social media to document her struggle and recent diagnosis of Narcolepsy Type 1. She has been struggling with the rare disease for 14 months, and according to her, that time has been “debilitating”, making it difficult to run the bakery and oversee the brand’s expansion to Fishtown/Kensington in coming months. 

However, du Plessis has also decided to use her bakery to help others battling the illness by raising money for narcolepsy research on Rare Disease Day, an observance held on the last day of February to raise awareness for rare diseases while improving access to treatment and medical representation for individuals with rare diseases and their families, a release notes. The initiative was coordinated for the first time in 2008, and the date was chosen because Feb. 29 is a “rare day.” 

This Thursday, (Feb. 29) and also Friday (March 1), Philadelphians can head to the Jewish bakery to pick up salted maple pies made from a recipe by Lisa Ludwinski, owner of Sister Pie in Detroit, Michigan. Ludwinski, a two-time James Beard Award semi-finalist and well-known pastry chef (who some may have seen featured inBon Appetit‘) adds a creamy, caramel filling made from dark amber maple syrup, heavy cream, eggs, light brown sugar, and a touch of cornmeal to her pies. 

The treats will be sold this week for $29, and proceeds from sales will benefit Wake Up Narcolepsy, a nonprofit dedicated to driving narcolepsy awareness, education, and research towards improved treatments and a cure. The release also notes that this is the first time du Plessis, a four-time James Beard nominee herself, will be offering this pie at her bakery. Pre-orders are available now by visiting Essen’s online ordering page

“I’m a huge fan of Lisa’s baking, and over the years I have admired her lively and thoughtful pie bakery from afar,” said du Plessis in a statement. “Her popular salted maple pie is a masterpiece. It’s made with only flour, butter, maple, salt, and not much more, yet the result is unctuous, complex, multi-dimensional, gooey, and flaky – a party in your mouth. I love making pies, and I take pride in our super flaky laminated pie crusts, but at Essen we only produce them for the holiday season.” 

She continued: “I recently learned about Rare Disease Day and I thought it was a perfect opportunity to share my love of this particular pie with our Philly community while raising money for a cause that’s near and dear to my heart. It’s been a long, hard road dealing with narcolepsy, but coming out and being open about it has given me strength and helped me to regain the confidence I feared I had lost. Now that I’m making strides with my amazing doctors’ guidance, I am so much less fearful of what the future holds for me. And what better way to celebrate that than with some delicious pie, which it’s never a bad time for in my world.”

To learn more information about Essen Bakery (1437 E Passyunk Ave.,) visit