Sunday, April 21, 2013

Opening a Glatt Kosher Restaurant in Manhattan: What Hurdles Might You Face?

So you want to open up a Glatt Kosher restaurant in New York City, for argument’s sake. Opening any type of restaurant in the city presents major challenges. However, there are additional trials to opening a Glatt Kosher restaurant in NYC that many people don’t even consider.

For one, no Kosher observing Jew will want to eat at your restaurant without a reliable hashgacha (Kosher certification). What makes a hashgacha reliable? There are a number of well-known kosher organizations that almost all observant Jews find reliable, such as the Orthodox Union (OU), OK, Kaf-K, Star K, as well as many Rabbis who can provide certification. Of course, some people may still not want to eat at your establishment if they don’t believe the hashgacha to be reliable, for whatever reasons they may have. It is best to do research about each option and what kind of clientele you would like to attract, as each organization and Rabbi have their own guidelines that must be met to provide you with a Kosher certificate.

One of the most recognized kosher certifications is the OU, but it is also one of the strictest in their rules for kosher restaurants. All the food can be completely 100% Glatt Kosher and everything served and cooked with all the rules of Kosher in place, but if the organization does not approve of a certain feature of your restaurant they will revoke their hashgacha. For example, a Glatt Kosher restaurant in Manhattan with OU certification would have live music several nights a week as well as a full bar. The OU had a problem with this, as they hold to the strict rule that live music played at the same time alcohol is served when there is no celebration (wedding, bar mitzvah, etc.) was inappropriate, so the restaurant had no choice but to find another Kosher certification since they did not want to get rid of their live music. Recently, another kosher restaurant in NYC was forced to change its name in order to get certification from the OU. 
Some organizations even require restaurants to put security cameras at their bar so that they can monitor how customers behave. Some don’t allow kosher restaurants to hold special events for the Superbowl or Valentine’s Day. 

Even changing certifications can be tricky, since customers may begin to wonder why a restaurant suddenly has a new hashgacha.  It is not uncommon for false rumors to quickly spread about why the certification was changed, which may potentially seriously hurt business.

Another thing to consider is how many days a year a Glatt Kosher restaurant would have to be closed. This includes every Friday evening, every Saturday, every Jewish holiday, etc. In the end, a Glatt Kosher restaurant in New York would only be open roughly 220 days a year. 

Assuming the rent for the average restaurant in NY is about $12,000 a month and electricity is about $3,000 a month, that means you will have to spend about $180,000 a year just on rent and electricity. That is over $800 a day, compared to a regular restaurant that would only have to pay less than $500 a day since they are open more often. These figures don’t even include employee salaries, insurance, licenses, etc. Many restaurants try to cut closed days by offering prepaid, prix fixe Shabbat and holiday meals and staying open later on Saturday nights. Restaurants even offer Passover Seders and full holiday meals. However, you must also consider slow nights when you only have a dozen or so prepaid customers on a Friday night and you need to turn away walk-ins who would like to have a regular meal. Imagine having a prime location in Manhattan and having to continually turn away people at the busiest times of the week, when all other restaurants in NYC are making good money.

People often grumble at how prices at kosher restaurants in NYC are so expensive, but this is because the restaurant needs to pay almost double for Glatt Kosher meat compared to non-Kosher meat. For example, your regular supermarket brand chicken cutlets usually run from about $3 to $5 per pound. Glatt Kosher chicken cutlets can cost you double or even triple that amount. This is due to the extra care and preparation taken to ensure that the meat is completely kosher. You always know what you’re getting with Glatt Kosher meat, so the prices will be higher.

Opening Glatt Kosher restaurants in Manhattan, or anywhere else for that matter, isn’t for the faint of heart. Of course, neither is it very simple to open any type of restaurant and sustain it for however long. Thousands of restaurants shut down or exchange owners every year in a big city like New York, many in just their first couple of years in business. With kosher restaurants, there are so many obstacles to consider before taking the leap and investing in such a venture. The only thing you can do is put as much effort possible into creating the best possible restaurant you can and always try different tactics with bringing in customers.

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