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JewishJournal.com

May 22, 2013

Two restaurants drop RCC after Doheny scandal

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

Less than two months after a private investigator videotaped the owner of Doheny Glatt Kosher Meat Market allegedly bringing unsupervised animal products into his store, two local kosher restaurants have dropped the Rabbinical Council of California (RCC) as their glatt kosher certifier. 

The RCC, a nonprofit consortium of local Orthodox rabbis, had certified as kosher the now-disgraced retailer and distributor’s meat, and RCC President Rabbi Meyer May confirmed in an interview on May 20 that other restaurants under the group’s certification are also considering an exit. 

“Two have left,” May said, “and it depends on some negotiations going on now whether there are more, or are not allowed to be more.” 

Asked how the RCC can prevent privately owned businesses from dropping their kosher certification, which can cost a business hundreds or thousands of dollars a month to maintain — mostly for the kosher supervision of a mashgiach, but also in fees paid to the RCC — May said his organization is currently in talks with Kehilla Kosher, the other major Orthodox kosher certifier in Los Angeles. May said he hopes the two agencies can agree on a common set of standards to apply to kosher restaurants citywide, which, he said, might dissuade businesses from fleeing the RCC. 

“Will it be successful? I don’t know,” May said. 

May confirmed that Elite Cuisine, a restaurant and catering company located on Beverly Boulevard near La Brea Avenue that had been under the RCC’s certification, is now certified by Kehilla. An advertisement for Elite that appeared in the May 19 edition of the Hillygram, a community e-mail newsletter, featured Kehilla’s logo.

May declined to name the other restaurant that has left the RCC. Habayit Restaurant in West Los Angeles, which had been listed on the RCC’s Web site in early April, no longer appears on the certifier’s site. 

Reached by phone, Amir Simyonov, Habayit’s owner, confirmed on May 17 that he had dropped the RCC’s certification and is now solely under the supervision of Rabbi Yehuda Bukspan. 

Meanwhile, the glass front door of Doheny’s retail outlet on Pico Boulevard remains covered with white butcher paper. If the initial reaction to the scandal, which broke on March 24, was rapid, progress toward reopening the store has slowed more recently. 

Shlomo Rechnitz, a local businessman and philanthropist, bought the shop and its distribution arm on March 31 and then transferred the agreement to David Kagan, owner of Western Kosher, the competing kosher retailer, on April 8.

The main obstacle to reopening Doheny is the question of which kosher agency will oversee the reopened shop. Western Kosher is certified by Kehilla, but Rechnitz told the RCC’s May at the time he purchased the shop that he intended to reopen Doheny under RCC certification.

Reached by phone on May 21, Kagan declined to comment. On Tuesday, Rechnitz declined to comment about the negotiations on the record, other than to say that they are ongoing.

On that same day, May said he isn’t sure exactly who currently owns the shop, but he appeared to be expecting Rechnitz to make good on his promise that the reopened Doheny would remain under the RCC’s certification. 

“We won’t accept that Doheny will open up under Kehilla,” May said.

Whether the RCC would, in fact, be able to stop that from happening is unclear. 

In what he called an effort to improve the standards of kashrut in Los Angeles, May said the RCC recently underwent internal and external audits of its operations. Rabbi Gershon Bess, the RCC’s chief rabbinic authority, in an open letter to the Jewish community sent on May 3, said that the auditor, “a senior representative of the [Orthodox Union],” found that despite the RCC’s “general high standards and excellent staff, [the RCC] needed to improve and upgrade in many areas.” 

May told the Journal in April that results of audits would be made public, but declined to discuss them on Monday. He said he hopes to implement higher kosher standards in Los Angeles, and that, ideally, such standards would be implemented by Kehilla’s certified businesses as well. 

Kehilla’s rabbinic administrator, Rabbi Avrohom Teichman, declined to be interviewed on May 21. In response to a message left for Teichman on Tuesday, a Kehilla employee who identified himself only as Noah, told the Journal that the agency is “not aware of any obstacles” that would prevent Doheny from reopening its doors. The employee declined to respond to follow-up questions by phone. 

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