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April 12, 2013

Scandal-plagued Doheny Meats might change hands, again

http://www.jewishjournal.com/los_angeles/article/scandal_plagued_doheny_meats_might_change_hands_again

Doheny Glatt Kosher Meats. Photo by Jonah Lowenfeld.

Doheny Glatt Kosher Meats. Photo by Jonah Lowenfeld.

For the second time in two weeks, the ownership of Doheny Glatt Kosher Meat Market might be changing hands. 

Shlomo Rechnitz, the local Orthodox businessman and philanthropist who purchased the scandal-plagued retailer and distributor of kosher meat and poultry products on March 31, told the Jewish Journal that he transferred the agreement he had made with Doheny’s previous owner to David Kagan, the owner of Western Kosher on Fairfax Avenue, on April 8. 

“David approached me and said to me, ‘I’ll take over the business, and I’ll therefore have enough volume to be another distributor myself,’ ” Rechnitz said in an exclusive interview with the Journal on April 11. 

Reached that same day, an employee of Western Kosher told the Journal that Kagan had no comment.

Western Kosher has had a retail outlet on Fairfax since 1979; in 2012, Kagan opened a second, larger retail location on Pico Boulevard, just east of La Cienega Boulevard, taking over a space that had been occupied by another kosher retailer that closed its doors in 2011. Western Kosher also distributes some kosher animal products to local businesses. 

Rechnitz said that Doheny, which had its certification revoked on March 24, could reopen as early as this week under its new owner. But there are some hurdles that still stand in the way of the deal, including the challenge of determining which of the two leading local Orthodox kosher certification agencies would oversee the reopened shop.

Western Kosher’s retail and distribution businesses are certified by Kehilla Kosher. Doheny was certified by the Rabbinical Council of California (RCC), which had encouraged Rechnitz to buy the scandal-plagued shop and had pledged to certify it once it reopened. 

Rechnitz’s involvement in the Doheny affair began on March 24, just hours after rabbis from the RCC viewed video of the market’s previous owner, Mike Engelman, helping a Doheny employee move boxes of unidentified products into his store at a time when the RCC’s mashgiach (rabbinic supervisor) was absent. 

The RCC revoked Engelman’s kosher certification that afternoon, and on the evening of March 24 — 24 hours before the start of Passover — Rechnitz was in the room when Engelman reportedly admitted to having brought unsupervised animal products into his store. 

Starting the following day, RCC President Meyer May and others urged Rechnitz to buy the shop and its distribution arm. The RCC, a nonprofit consortium of nearly 100 local Orthodox rabbis, pledged to recertify the shop under Rechnitz’s ownership. 

Rechnitz finalized a “binding” agreement with Engelman on March 31. May said that Rechnitz called him on April 9 to inform him about the transfer of the agreement to Kagan. 

“If the new owner asks for certification, we’ll be happy to seriously consider the implications,” May told the Journal in an April 11 interview. 

May sounded skeptical about how involved the RCC would be, because of Kagan’s prior relationship with Kehilla. 

“He’s under Kehilla and I don’t see him moving over unless he decided to leave Kehilla, which I don’t expect him to do,” May said. “I don’t encourage people to leave other people’s hechsherim [kosher certification agencies]. It’s not my style.”

In an e-mail to the Journal, Rabbi Avrohom Teichman, Kehilla’s rabbinic administrator, would not confirm that the sale had been finalized. 

“With reference to your inquiry, we await formal notice from David Kagan,” Teichman wrote on April 11.

Rechnitz, whose involvement in the sale may in fact be over at this point, said he hoped Kehilla and the RCC would jointly certify both the newly reopened Doheny shop as well as Western Kosher’s existing businesses. 

“I would like to see this store and Western Kosher both certified under both certifications,” Rechnitz said, “and David Kagan has assured me that he is willing to take on both stringencies.”

Rechnitz explained that in situations where the RCC had a stricter policy than Kehilla, the jointly certified shop would adhere to that policy. On matters in which Kehilla was more stringent than the RCC, the shop would abide by Kehilla’s standard. 

May said that Rechnitz had spoken with him about the possibility of joint certification. 

“It’s something that the Vaad Hashrus [the RCC committee on kosher law] would certainly consider, but only if it’s meaningful,” May said. 

Kagan grew up in Los Angeles and has been running Western Kosher since 1990; his father, Moshe Kagan, ran the business before him. 

Rechnitz said he was confident that Kagan, who he said had established a great deal of trust with the community and rabbis from both the RCC and Kehilla, could manage to work something out with these two competitors.

“If there’s someone who can bring these two organizations together, it’s him,” Rechnitz said.

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