November 4, 2004
Seattle—Kosher Mecca of Northwest
In the past, the dynamic and innovative Pacific Northwestern city of Seattle has been associated with Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks, The Pike Street Market, The Space Needle and grunge bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana.
Today, the city can boast of having a stunning new downtown library, a cutting-edge science fiction museum, state-of-the-art football and baseball stadiums and the Experience Music Project, a hands-on rock museum. And, a well-kept secret is that Seattle is the "kosher mecca" of the Pacific Northwest.
Previously, the thriving Seattle Jewish community of 40,000 was best known for having the third-largest Sephardic community in North America (after Los Angeles and New York). Many of Seattle's 3,000-4,000 Sephardim (who came to the city in the early 1900s from Turkey and the Greek island of Rhodes) and many of the city's Orthodox population, reside in Seward Park, which has two large Sephardic synagogues, the city's main Ashkenazic Orthodox synagogue and an eruv. (Many Jews also reside in areas like Mercer Island, Bellevue and the North End of Seattle.) The existence of such a large Sephardic population may be one of the main reasons that there are so many kosher restaurants scattered throughout the city.
In fact, Seattle, which has a population of 2.5 million, has more kosher restaurants than the nearby cities of Vancouver, B.C., and Portland, Ore., combined. Seattle's kosher establishments receive their kosher certification from the Va'ad HaRabanim of Greater Seattle, which among other things, takes care of kashrut issues and gives supervision on various kosher products and kosher establishments. (They also get a lot of calls from tourists wanting to know where they can find kosher restaurants and kosher food in the city.)
For a city of its size, Seattle has an incredible array of kosher restaurants to satisfy almost every palate. There is mouth-watering kosher pizza, pasta, soups and sandwiches at the Panini Grill Cafe near the Green Lake area; traditional Jewish fare and kosher baked goods at Leah's in the North End; traditional fare can be found at Nosh Away and tasty North Indian Punjabi vegetarian kosher at Pabla Indian Cuisine -- both in Renton; pareve Thai and Chinese Vegan cuisine at The Teapot Vegetarian House in Capitol Hill, a funky neighborhood near downtown Seattle; vegetarian Chinese food at the renowned Bamboo Garden in Queen Anne near Seattle Center; and kosher vegetarian Indian cuisine at Namasthe in Redmond.
Joy Somanna, the manager of Pabla Indian Cuisine, points out that business has increased since the restaurant (which is owned by Harnil Pabla) decided to become kosher at the request of the Jewish community of nearby Seward Park. Pabla's also has a downtown location that the owner, J.S. Pabla, attempted unsuccessfully to convert into a kosher restaurant. But Pabla -- who helped to establish the Renton location with his brother, Harnil -- is hoping to open a kosher vegetarian Pabla's outlet on Mercer Island in December. Seattle could have its eighth kosher restaurant before the end of 2004.
In addition to the many great kosher restaurants in the city, there are several bagel shops and coffeehouses under Va'ad supervision that offer kosher fare in Seattle. And, not only does Seattle have a wide variety of kosher establishments, but it also has a distinctive hechsher, or kosher symbol: a K-shaped Space Needle.
According to Rabbi Aharon Brun-Kestler, the executive director of the Seattle Va'ad who came from the Orthodox Union in New York, "Our standards are in line with other mainstream organizations and our supervision is generally accepted by outside agencies such as The Orthodox Union in New York."
Ellen Kolman of the Seattle Va'ad noted, "You know that you're getting a good hechsher, when you buy a Va'ad-approved kosher product from Seattle."
Kolman, who is from Philadelphia (but came to Seattle with her husband from Northern California) is impressed with the number of kosher restaurants in Seattle.
"But even though there is a big Orthodox population in Seattle, kosher restaurants can't survive with only Jewish customers because Seattle is not New York," she said.
Daniel Cohanim, the owner of the Panini Grill Cafe, which opened in North Seattle in 1997, is also impressed by the number of kosher restaurants in the city. According to Cohanim, who is a native of Seattle, "There is a lot of co-operation between Sephardim and Ashkenazim in the Seattle Jewish community."
This cohesiveness, he believes, may partially explain why there are so many kosher restaurants in the city. He also agrees with Kollman's assertion that it would be difficult to survive solely with a Jewish clientele and attributes the success of his restaurant to the fact that he has been able to attract both a Jewish and non-Jewish clientele from the nearby trendy Green Lake area.
"Some of my non-Jewish customers don't even know that they're eating kosher food at a kosher restaurant," he said, "but I've worked hard to make Paninis feel like a regular restaurant in order to attract a broad customer base."
Cohanim also gets a great response from kosher travelers from New York and other eastern cities who are amazed by the quality of the food available at The Panini Grill and by the selection and quality of kosher restaurants in the Seattle area.
"We have some great kosher restaurants in the city, so food should not be an excuse not to travel to Seattle," he said.