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Jewish Journal

Kosher Boom

Los Angeles retailers meet the growing demand for kosher goods.

by Julie G Fax

November 16, 2000 | 7:00 pm

A Kosher Cup of Joe

When new Jewish owners took over Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in 1998, it bothered them to know they were serving non-kosher food to their Jewish customers. So they did the logical thing: They set out to make the entire line of beverages and baked goods served at the coffee houses kosher."The CEO of the company couldn't handle the thought of serving anything but kosher food to the community," says Debbie Sassoon, director of product development, whose husband, Sunny, owns Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. "And we thought it was something the Jewish community should benefit from and enjoy."

That goal was recently met, after a year of switching source suppliers and kashering the Santa Monica commissary that supplies all the 60 locations in the greater L.A. area. All beverage products - coffees, teas, powders and syrups - are under the supervision of Kosher Supervision of America (KSA), as they have been for several years, and all the baked goods are under the supervision of Rabbi Moshe Benzaquen's Kosher L.A. (KoLA).

Now, kosher consumers can sit down in one of the cozy shops and have a blueberry scone, a low-fat peach-cranberry muffin, or a panini and Asian ginger salad along with the aromatic and smooth brew that is the international chain's staple.

"The response has been tremendous. People are thrilled," says Sassoon. "It's the convenience of life to be able to go around the corner and just grab something, and be comfortable in a warm and casual environment that is open long hours," she says.

Sassoon believes that the body of kosher consumers is growing, along with their standards and expectations.

"I think manufacturers realize the added value and market they can get to by investing in kashrut," she says. "It's amazing what we have access to in today's marketplace - we have access to tremendous gourmet products that are kosher. I think this is where the market is going."

For Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf locations, contact (800) TEA-LEAF, or www.coffeebean.com. For special events catering call Rachel Elias at (310) 237-2363.

Lunch Special

The smell of freshly baked bread is soon to return to the site abandoned by Noah's Bagels at Pico and Beverwil, when Maison Gourmet opens its doors in December. The French-style cafe, under the supervision of KSA, will feature artisan breads and French pastries, as well as soup, salads and gourmet sandwiches. Next door to Starbucks with ample patio seating and outdoor heaters, Maison Gourmet will be a homey and comfortable hangout, says owner Jacob Hausman.

Maison Gourmet is in the shopping center at Pico Blvd. and Beverwil Drive, (310) 248-4822, www.maisongourmetla.com.

He Sells Knishes by the Sea Shore

Since Yosef BeitHalahmi opened Mr. Pickles Deli on Washington Boulevard, just across Washington Blvd. from Costco in Culver City, customers have not only been thanking BeitHalahmi for his fine bourekas and knishes, they've been thanking him for opening at all. Mr. Pickles, is the only kosher restaurant and deli within a few minutes' drive of the beach cities and is also the kosher eatery closest to LAX.

"The area has been kind of like a misfit, because it didn't have a cohesive center to hold it together," says Joanne BeitHalahmi, Yosef's wife, of the growing Jewish communities in the beach cities. "Our deli has become a meeting place where people come to talk with other Jews and find a warm and welcoming environment."

But it's not just the environment or the fact that it's kosher that is making Mr. Pickles popular. Yosef BeitHalahmi says about 40 percent of his clientele is not Jewish; he has a steady stream of Asian customers coming for the matzoh balls and chicken soup (made with real chickens, no powder). And one brisket maven ordered a sandwich for dinner, then a second sandwich, then returned at 8 a.m. the next morning for another, saying it was the best brisket he'd ever had.

Mr. Pickles, under the supervision of Kehilla of Los Angeles, is at 13354 West Washington Blvd., one-half mile east of Lincoln Blvd., (310) 822-7777.

French Connection

Cyril Bansay's one-week vacation in Los Angeles metamorphosed into a two-year stay and major business venture after the French wine merchant tried to buy some of the kosher gourmet products his family's business imports.

"It was five times more expensive," says Bansay. "I decided I like L.A., and this can't happen anymore. The Los Angeles Jewish community has to have good products at the right price."

He and his wife moved to Los Angeles and opened the West Coast branch of the French Company, an importer and distributor of more than 2,000 certified kosher gourmet products, including foie gras, pate and French cookies. He says bringing the products directly to Los Angeles, rather than through four or five middlemen, can save the consumer up to 50 percent.

Bansay carries what he says are top-of-the-line wines produced by his family's winery, including a line of red and white Bordeaux under the Le Conte De Yena label, and several varieties under the Rothschild and Latisse labels.

French Company now distributes to local kosher markets and will also sell directly to the public through a grocery delivery service.

For information call (877) 751-WINE.

Part one of this article appeared in last week's Journal.

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