Sunday, April 21, 2013

8 Things You Might Not Know About Kosher Restaurants in New York

Before I began managing a Glatt Kosher restaurant in Manhattan, I didn’t expect to find out so many new things about what it took to keep a kosher restaurant alive in New York City. Here are some things I learned from my NYC Kosher Restaurant experience:

1. Meat prices are higher  Yes, beef, poultry, everything that's kosher costs A LOT more than regular market product.

For example, regular chicken cutlets at your local KeyFood will cost something in the area of $3.50 to $4.50 per pound. (We are not talking marked-up prices at the premium chains like Food Emporium or Whole Foods - basically non-organic, generic chicken - think Purdue.) Look here:

In comparison, online prices for kosher chicken cutlets are around $10-11/lb. At actual brick-and-mortar stores they tend to be even higher. Compare here:

2. Kosher for Passover products are more expensive Yes, the additional work that goes into replacing ingredients that are considered not kosher for Passover and the extra cleaning and supervision all cost money that get passed on to the consumer. The middle-man/restaurant/supermarket has also extra expenses that need to be covered. That's why some restaurants charge over $120 for a Seder and they have a reason. We, at Talia's, work very hard to serve the community without having to charge significantly higher prices.

3. Live Music Everyone in New York City loves live music, but even that is an issue in the kosher restaurant business. 
I will not get into a prolonged explanation of the reasoning of why some interpret the rules to forbid live music where wine is served year around while others believe the restrictions are meant only during the "sefirah" in the days before Lag B'omer. Our supervision has ruled that live music is acceptable so we have it 3 times a week except during the "sefirah."

Read more here:
and here:

4. Valentine's Day/New Year's Day/Thanksgiving Day Secular holidays are also thorny issues for some. However, the general discussion and interpretation of the Law says that secular holidays may be celebrated by Jews as long as there is no religions element in them. So since most people do not associate Thanksgiving with a religious tradition and members of many religions celebrate it once they immigrate to America, it is okay to enjoy turkey and stuffing, but with piety. In the case of Valentine's Day, which has clear Christian roots, the piety is even more important, but since showing love and giving gifts to your wife are praiseworthy things to do any day of the year, a simple celebration is acceptable. Of course, everyone will choose for themselves, but Talia's will give you great food, red roses on the table and maybe even Live Music, but nothing exuberant or extraordinary. 

Read more here:

5. Kosher restaurants are open only about 200 days a year. What? How? That doesn't make sense!
You have 52 weeks in the year. That means at least 52 Fridays and 52 Saturdays. Fridays, obviously Shabbat starts. Saturday nights you open at 9 PM during the summer when every regular restaurant has already made its money for the day and the rest is gravy. Imagine being a restaurant in New York City and having to turn down customers during the busiest days of the week. Winter is not much better because the foot traffic is always lower and even though you open earlier it is still not the same. Now add to this all the holidays and fast days and you get pretty close to 200. You have to make double the money other restaurants in Manhattan make daily to get to the same numbers. And then just consider that rent, electricity, gas - they are not kosher and don't take a holiday. Oh, and kosher food spoils just as quickly as regular food. So yes, kosher restaurants MUST charge higher prices to be able to stay in business and serve the community and, on a good day, the boss will have enough left in his pocket to buy a drink somewhere that isn’t his own bar.

6. You cannot watch the Superbowl (according to the OU and other supervisions)
This is also a big topic of debate, that involves things like watching it an Irish bar (Hukot HaGoyim - a non-Jewish custom) or Bitul Torah a.k.a. wasting time from studying Torah and Moshav Letzim - are you watching it in a place where people are wasting their time, joking around and maybe worse? But let's work on some numbers. How much of the Jewish population really adheres to those extra restrictions that are imposed outside the 9 days and Jewish holidays? 1%? What about the 85% of Jews who do not observe kosher? What about the 20% or so of our customers who are not even Jewish? They love our ribs, why not let them have it for the game? Since Jewish Law mandates that we obey the secular laws of the country where we reside, wouldn't it be discrimination against the non-frum, non-orthodox, or non-Jewish people in NYC who want to have a good time? And it's not like we do anything extravagant! We just serve the people who choose to enjoy a meal with us. So yes, supervising organizations impose restrictions and restrictions and restrictions to accommodate 1%. The kosher food market is estimated at about $225 billion, but only 10% of those sales are generated by Orthodox Jews. The rest is from foodies, Muslims, Christians... trust me most people don't look for the OU symbol on the bottle of Heinz - they are looking for the taste inside. Oh yeah, and Jews kind of like to keep kosher on Passover - kind of - which is why 40% of kosher food sales ANNUALLY occur around Passover.

Read more here:

7. Supervision extends beyond food - in some interpretations.
When a popular kosher restaurant in Manhattan decided to switch supervisions to the OU, it also had to re-brand. Jezebel became JSoho, in order to land the supervision, because the name was considered "not-kosher." That is again an example of compliance with the concerns of a small part of the Jewish population for the sake of good business. Is the food more "kosher" too?

8. There is kosher meat and kosher meat.
You think one label is enough? Not at all! The big four certifications are OU, OK, Star-K and Kof-K, but worldwide you have hundreds of kosher certifications and even more individual rabbis who provide local certification. The kosher consumers are familiar with them and know which certification is acceptable for their needs but still this is still a variety of standards that leaves many people confused, especially when it comes to meat which has additional certifications. For example, Chabad prefer to eat Shor H'bor. Many Sephardic Jews will not eat anything that is not Beit Yosef. Satmar Chasidim will eat only chicken from Mehadrin, while other chasidim like Chabad will eat other kosher chicken. So what is a kosher restaurant supposed to do? Stock extra and throw to the garbage? At double the cost? No, you find the right vendors that can get you the right meat, you take on groups who want special meat only with advanced notice and try to do your best to keep everyone happy and make rent. Of course, sometimes you will miss out on a group, but that's life.

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