Posted by Rob Eshman
I just got off the phone with Frank Luntz, who I interviewed about his new book, “What Americans Really Want…Really: The Truth About Our Hopes, Dreams and Fears” (Hyperion). One thing he said, and wrote, leapt out: One of the single greatest determinants of whether your kids will grow up to use drugs is whether you eat dinner as a family five nights a week.
That’s it: family dinners can save your kids life.
On page 257, under the heading, “Healthy Children to Healthy Adults: The Six Steps Parents Really Need to Know,” here’s #1:
Having dinner with your children. Nothing says, “I truly care about you” more than spending dinnertime with your children at least five times a week. ...parents who dine with their children produce healthier adults because it sends a clear signal that children are a high priority. ...Parents who miss dinner—no matter what the excuse—are sending the wrong message.
I don’t know what research backs this up, but it strikes an intuitive chord with me. (Until I read Po Bronson’s new book, which I hear says we give too much attention to our kids….).
Scratch that: I don’t care what research backs that up. I do family dinners because I like them—I do them for me. I like to start thinking about what I’m cooking around now—5 pm. I like to shop on the way home. I like to walk in the house and start thinking about cooking and dinner, rather than keep thinking about work. And I like to watch my kids eat.
Since 2000 I’ve kept a journal of what I make for dinner, and I keep the journal by my bed. My wife keeps a prayer book by her side. Same difference.
(By the way, my Luntz interview will appear in next week’s paper. Spoiler alert: he doesn’t have a partner, spouse or kids—but as he told me, his research changed his thinking, not his behavior).
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August 29, 2009 | 3:59 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
Every time you enter a restaurant, you take a leap of faith. Last night, at Ado in Venice, I took a huge frickin’ jump.
Right over S. Irene Virbila’s head.
Ado is a new Italian place, located in a yellow, two-story bungalow just where Main Street curves into Abbot Kinney. I’ve passed it sereval times since it opened a few weeks go, then Googled it to find it’s the newest venture of Chef Antonio Mure, who opened Piccolo, Locana Veneta and Il Botte. I’d eaten his food at all those places and never had a bad meal, and comments on Yelp confirmed that he was doing a good job at Ado as well.
So, when my wife asked me to make a reservation somewhere special for my mother-in-law’s 87th birthday party, I called. “How many people in your party?”
“24,” I said.
We had relatives in from out of town, from Israel, from Toronto and San Francisco and Boston and New York. The tribe was gathering around the matriarch for a feast, and I was pretty damn proud of myself. I’d scored a big reservation at a new Italian place in a funky, oh-so-Venice location with a tried and true chef.
This was Wednesday. I gave my credit card, and confirmed the reservation for a Thursday night dinner.
About an hour later my dad called. “Did you see the review in the LA Times?” he said. “They hated Ado.”
I went online.
This was the headline: “Chef-owner Antonio Muré has impressed elsewhere, but the indifferent service and a pricey and scattershot menu outweigh the handful of dishes that work.”
It gets worse.
The Times’ restaurant reviewer, S. Irene Virbila, goes on to accuse Mure of gouging customers by pushing high-priced bottled water on them, misleading them about the price of a pasta and black truffles. She calls the wine list overpriced, the food heavy and fussy for the season, and the service rushed.
Coup de grace? When Mure’s partner Paolo attempts to kiss her good night, she recoils.
“I don’t know the guy, and I’m not playing,” she writes. “[Paolo] steps back and says, shrugging, ‘I am Italian.’”
Virbila calls the Paolo-tried-to-kiss-me attempt “patently insincere.”
(Okay, I have to wonder: did she expect flowers and chocolate first? Has she ever given anyone an air kiss without expecting to go home with them? Has she been to Italy? To Argentina? To Hollywood? It’s not love, it’s a handshake with your lips).
I put my computer to sleep and panicked. They had my credit card, I had the solemn responsibility to not screw up a dinner for 24 loved ones.
And the calls kept coming. “Where did you say we’re going? Did you read that review?”
It was suggested that we skip Ado and gather for pizza and beer somewhere.
Here is where I needed my faith to start leaping.
A restaurant, after all, is one more place where faith and food intersect. You walk into any restaurant, you never know. The kitchen is hidden. Even a so-called open kitchen is anything but—it reveals nothing of the hours of prep, of how the ingredients were stored, of who did what to your fish from the boat to the dock to that morning.
You are eating food that has passed through many human hands to get to your mouth, and you are trusting those hands with your life. It’s an intimate act, feeding. Nature insists that when we are first born and most vulnerable, only our birth mother can be entrusted with our food. In nature, once the mother stops feeding the animal, the animal feeds itself. But we humans, as we grow older, we let complete strangers feed us, we pay them to do it, trusting they will look out for us no less than our moms once did. A sloppy uncaring cook can at worst literally kill us. Or, if Irene Virbila was correct, at least ruin our night.
Would Antonio Mure ruin my night? I decided to stop by and ask him.
It was 11 am on the day of the dinner. When I walked in a stocky young Italian man with a mane of dark hair was at the espresso machine.
“Hi,” I said.
He turned to me. Was this the insincere Italian himself? I wasn’t going to fall for it. Irene had warned me. His very kisses reek of deception. Mascalzone! I’m not falling for it. I’m not falling for it.
“Would you like a coffee?”
“Um, sure.” Okay, I fell for it.
He didn’t even know who I was, he just saw a anxious stranger walk through his door while he was making himself a coffee—and offered one to his guest. This was Antonio, the chef. I told him I had made the reservation for 24 that evening. We walked upstairs and checked out the space. It was charming—exposed beams, wood floors, windows looking down on Main Street open to the ocean breeze. But I didn’t come to see the room. I came to ask about that lousy review.
But I didn’t bring it up at first. I had a couple Jeroboams of Puglian wine I wanted to celebrate with, and The Times review had led me to believe this man would gouge me for it. “I look in vain for a mid-priced Chianti Classico or Ruffino,” Virbila writes, “a lusty Barbera or even an Orvieto I’d like to drink. But this list has only a handful of wines under $50. The one Chianti I find is a 2003 Capannelle Riserva at $83. Pass.”
I turn to Mure. “What is your corkage for large bottles?”
Totally fair. Now I get to the point. “What about that review in the Times?”
He shrugged. “I don’t understand. People like it here.”
He didn’t seem hurt, or defensive, or even angry. He added, “She must not have liked it.”
So that was how he saw it: one diner’s opinion. You can’t thrill everyone. So what if she reviews for the largest newspaper in LA? She didn’t like it.
Antonio moved on to the next topic. “Your espresso.”
It was sitting on a small table by the front door—a demitasse filled with creamy espresso, placed on a saucer, along with two sugar cubes and a tiny spoon. I drank it—perfect.
“Thank you,” I said.
I took one final look around the place, and then I saw it: the review. He had cut out Virbila’s scathing review—she gave him a half star out of four—and taped it to his front door. I was stunned. It was like cigarette companies putting the warning label on the front of the package. Could it be he didn’t read English? Or was it a macho thing—you think you’re tough, here, hit me, so what? Or could it be his way of saying he had nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed of?
Whatever it was, I liked it. I was coming back that night with 23 relatives.
The leap began at 6:30. We gathered car by car. At the door Paolo said hello and welcome—INSINCERE! How dare he smile and welcome people he doesn’t know to his restaurant.
He acted delighted at the giant wine bottles I had brought. “You have to taste it,” I said.
“Of course,” he said. “I better.”
The waiters were attentive. It was a warm night, and we drank some of that Italian sparkling water Virbila found to be such a rip off. But is it? We could have ordered tap water—she could have too. There’s no law that says a restaurant has to sell bottled water cheap. Or is that now in some Diner’s Ten Commandments—Thou Shalt Break Even on Bottled Water? Ado’s food, I’d see, was labor intensive and high quality—if water was where they wanted to make a little profit, so be it.
The appetizers I tasted were great. Remember, there were 24 of us, so I’m going to assume I got to taste, smell and see more of Mure’s dishes than Virbila did in her visit (or was it visits? She never says how many times she dined there before judging it an insincere rip off—an omission that borders on the unjust).
Crudo d’orata – a sea bream carpaccio with red onion, capers, olive oil, lemon and some heat— was the standout. But there was rich tuna tartar set off by blood orange, a watercress salad with hearts of palm and the day’s special, asparagus soup with quail egg and shaved black truffles. All delicious on a warm Venice night.
By then everyone had drunken a couple of glasses, enjoyed their appetizers, and munched through the baskets of freshly-baked foccacia. We were a big happy noisy family. My sister-in-law gave a toast and my mother-in-law sighed with joy. I relaxed. The main courses would have to be shoe leather and shaving cream to turn the tide against this place.
“I feel like I’m in Italy,” a relative who has been there several times said. I knew the feeling: of being taken care of, of being cooked for by somebody who cared as much or more about what was on your plate as you did. Someone who understood that it was faith that brought you to him, and it was his duty to restore that faith—isn’t “restore” at the root of the word restaurant, after all?
The next courses were uniformly very good. Little gnocchi with diced tomatoes, arugula, and almonds. A snapper filet grilled and napped with a light blood orange, tagliatelle sautéed with fried zucchini, teardrop tomatoes, walnut pesto. The aroma from my mother’s pasta—homemade beet pasta with quail ragu on a pool of molten taleggio cheese—just the smell of it alone—was enough to challenge my faith not in Ado, but in the LA Times. Ms. Virbila, if you tried that dish and did not like it, your next sparkling water is on me.
We ate late into the night. We split some panna cotta and ricotta cheesecakes for dessert, and some cups of espresso. We sang “Happy Birthday” to my mother-in-law, and it was good.
Paolo was at the bottom of the stairs as we filed out.
“Ciao bello,” he said to me. “How was everything?”
I hugged him, sincerely.
August 23, 2009 | 6:11 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
In his column today, Nick Kristof proves he’s a Foodaism believer. Trying to illuminate what is lost when the diversity of the family farm gives way to factory farms and monoculture, he reaches far beyond the true and obvious: our health, our environment, taste, choice—and concludes that it is something much deeper: our very souls.
On a summer visit back to the farm here where I grew up, I think I figured out the central problem with modern industrial agriculture. It’s not just that it produces unhealthy food, mishandles waste and overuses antibiotics in ways that harm us all.
More fundamentally, it has no soul.
The family farm traditionally was the most soulful place imaginable, and that was the case with our own farm on the edge of the Willamette Valley. I can’t say we were efficient: for a time we thought about calling ourselves “Wandering Livestock Ranch,” after our Angus cattle escaped in one direction and our Duroc hogs in another.
Writing from his family homestead in Yamhill, OR, he notes that farms like the one he grew up on are fast disappearing.
The result is food that also lacks soul — but may contain pathogens. In the last two months, there have been two major recalls of ground beef because of possible contamination with drug-resistant salmonella. When factory farms routinely fill animals with antibiotics, the result is superbugs that resist antibiotics.
He acknowledges—correctly—that the benefits of the modern food production system aren’t easily dismissed. Feeding more people more cheaply isn’t all bad. But there has to be a balance, and we’ve clealry moved too far in the wrong direction.
In the second half of the column, he indulges in a long recollection about a chicken he once owned who was raised by a goose. Not quite sure the editor shouldn’t have red-penned that, unless Kristof was angling for a children’s book contract.
But the ultimate point remains:
Recollections like that make me wistful for a healthy rural America composed of diverse family farms, which also offer decent and varied lives for the animals themselves (at least when farm boys aren’t conducting “scientific” experiments). In contrast, a modern industrialized operation is a different world: more than 100,000 hens in cages, their beaks removed, without a rooster, without geese or other animals, spewing out pollution and ending up as so-called food — a calorie factory, without any soul.
There is soul in food, soul in cooking, soul in eating. Adin Steinsaltz, in The Four Petaled Rose, spoke of the intimate connection between spirit and food: what we eat turns to flesh, and flesh houses our spirit, thus food is the stuff of the soul. I read that passage many years ago, it has never left me. It led, a long time afterwards, to this blog.
In the meantime, because it seems dry and serious to just blog Kristoff and Steinsaltz (it also sounds like the name of a really good law firm), let me throw in a recipe from a weekend dinner I made. This was last Thursday. I had a meeting in Brentwood, and stopped at the new place Tavern to check it out. From their very precious and pricey “Larder,” I bought a cylinder of a local goat cheese called, Hyku. I sliced the cheese into a bowl, added a pound or so of chopped farmer’s market heirloom cherry tomatoes, a handful of shredded basil, olive oil, a clove of garlic, salt and pepper. Into that I slid a pound of boiled pasta and a little pasta water. Mixed it up and topped it with more basil. There’s a recipe for this in Georgeanne Brenner’s, “The Food and Flavors of Haute Provence,” that uses fresh goat cheese. Hyku is bit more aged and potent. The steam coming off the pasta smelled like goat, garden and fruit. My son swooned.
Nick Kristoff would have dug it.
August 14, 2009 | 2:41 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
I’ve been absolutely stupendously busy, and this blog, favorite of all my blogs, has suffered. So here’s a quick fun post, because Foodaism teaches us that you have to grab those quiet moments where and when you can.
Running between meetings three days ago, I stopped at a tiny new-ish coffee bar called Profetta, in Westwood. I’d been there once before and was moved, actually moved, by the skill and care, the intentionality, with which the barristas made their lattes. This time I had the presence of mind to iPhone the process, and you can watch it, over and over and over, here—a Profeta barrista creating a perfect milk mandala that refocused and re-centered me before I went back on my frazzled way….
1129 Glendon Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Find more videos like this on EveryJew.com
August 12, 2009 | 3:00 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
Just when things seem to be on the verge of coming together—or a split second from spinning wildly out of control—that’s when a lot of people would turn to God and pray for strength, wisdom, guidance.
It’s not even that I don’t believe in God—it’s just that to me prayer often feels more like really pointless thinking. And I do enough of that already.
So my tendency is to go for the comfort, and calm, and certainty, of the kitchen. Make something. This weekend, when I had one of those weekends, I took Adi into the kitchen and made challah.
This is how much succor I needed—I left the Kitchenaid in the cupboard. I did it on a Sunday, and by hand, in a big wood bowl Naomi and I got for our wedding. Adi videoed it because it appears that’s his form of devotion.
Here’s the place I could go on about braiding the three strands of dough, bringing together the varying strands of my life into a unified whole, blah blah blah. But it wasn’t like that. I braided them quickly, automatically. Brushed them with a beaten egg. And after the loaves were baked and cooled, I felt better. Not holier. Not wiser. Just a bit more grounded and calm. What prayer does.
Here’s the recipe:
2 packages active dry yeast (2 tablespoons)
1 ¾ ciups lukewarm water
1 tablespoon plus 1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon salt
8 to 8 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional)
1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water.
2. Whisk the oil, 4 eggs, sugar and salt into yeast/water.
3. Gradually add flour, stirring with spoon or mixer paddle. When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading.
3. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth, about 7-10 minutes. Clean out bowl and grease it, then return dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. Dough may also rise in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees then turned off. Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.
4. Braid challah. Place braided loaves on a greased cookie sheet with at least 2 inches in between.
5. Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaves. Let rise another hour.
6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and brush loaves again. Sprinkle bread with seeds, if using.
7. Bake in middle of oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden.
Here’s the Video:
August 10, 2009 | 7:51 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
In the Foodaism pantheon, She is as close to deity as you get.
I learned to cook by watching her shows and working my way, recipe by recipe, through The French Chef Cookbook. I was 11. I took a paperback copy with me to college, to San Francisco, to LA. When I needed comfort, I read her clear, enthusiastic prose.
Two years before she died, I met her.
Of course this all came flooding back when I watched Julie and Julia last night at the Crest.
I hadn’t read Julie Powell’s book for the same reason I’m not a Catholic: I don’t lik anyone to mitigate my relationship with God.
I had my own intense, almost maternal relationship with Julia Child—though we met only once, and for five minutes, she nurtured a substantial part of me, the part that loves food, knows food, cooks. So I never logged on to Powell’s blog, never followed the coverage of it—I simply wanted to keep Julia to myself.
But the movie’s a different story. That’s Meryl Streep. That’s Nora Ephron. That’s Paris. That’s a food movie, and I can’t miss one of those.
(Foodaism’s 5 Best Food Movies, in order: Big Night, Tampopo, Babette’s Feast, Eat Drink Man Woman, Who’s Killing the Great Chefs of Europe.)
The movie’s central theme is a central tenet of Foodaism—that cooking has the power to save your soul. It plays out in Julia Powell’s life, rescuing her from a dead end job and the dread of turning 30. It plays out in a parallel track in Julia Child’s life, rescuing her from an essentially meaningless existence in Paris.
The Julia Child thread was so powerful, and Streep so remarkable, I think—I think—I would have preferred if the movie had been solely about her. She was a big enough character, with an interesting enough life, to sustain it.
But I understand how the theme played out in their twin stories, and watching Amy Adam act overweight was a lovely Hollywood fantasy—only in LA can women with protruding hip bones and concave bellies complain that they’re getting fat.
As for Julia, Streep’s portrayal only burnished my memory, which I got to share with my kids at a post-movie dinner at the new French brasserie in Culver City, Le Saint Amour. (We had—we HAD to have—the Ile Flottante for desert. It was fine, but the one in the cookbook is better).
It was at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in 2002. A friend invited me to a fundraiser for an organization that was trying to preserve cookbooks and the culinary hasty of early California—recipes and manuscripts going back to the days of the Californios, the first Mexican settlers. The guest of honor was Julia Child.
Of course I went to the luncheon, and promptly fortified myself with two glasses of wine so I could face the very frail-looking woman in a wheelchair seated a few tables away from me.
I watched her the whole time, noticed how she nodded off during the proceedings, and how, when the audience erupted in applause for her, she waved from her seat with the same joy she showed on the TV show.
Finally, I saw that her attendant, who had driven her down from her home in Santa Barbara, was making a move to wheel her away. I took another couple swallows then walked over to her…
…and I knelt at her feet.
I had to—she was in a wheelchair—but it nevertheless it felt like the right stance—I worshipped this woman.
I introduced myself, and told her that from the time I was 11, I watched her, read her cookbooks, and I thanked her for inspiring me and teaching me how to cook.
She nodded, not at all ungracious, just that how many times had she heard that same speech, this time delivered on a vapor trail of red wine breath?
“And what do you do with food now?” she asked—Julia Child talking to me!
“I used to cater,” I said, “Now I just cook for my family. I do something else for a living.”
Did I see disappointment, or boredom, or fatigue, or utter disinterest, in her face? Either way, I had hooked her, then I lost her.
“Oh, well, thank you very much,” she lilted.
I didn’t know what else to say, so I added, “I’m so glad you came today.”
“Well, it’s very hard for me to travel these days,” she said. “I need an assistant.”
Someone spoke from the dais, and our attention shifted.
“Nice to meet you!” she finally said.
And I said thank you, and goodbye.
And that was it.
I met Her without really meeting Her—but it wasn’t unpleasant, and I was in her presence, and that wouldn’t happen again until, many years later, I would se Meryl Streep on screen.
August 7, 2009 | 7:07 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
If you read my post on how a small, quiet restaurant can be as quiet and holy a place for me as a sanctuary, you won’t be surprised that a fruit and sundries vendor at the corner of Harvard St. and James Wood (the developer, not the actor) took the idea a step farther, making his catering coach into a traveling church, collapsing the distance between the holy and the hungry to one truck panel.
Inside the truck were the best and cheapest avocados I’ve had in a while, perfectly ripe Haas for 50 cents each. I bought one, a bollilo and a Coke, and that was my $2.45 lunch.
Have a great Shabbat…..
August 6, 2009 | 3:18 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Sue Fishkoff reports on JTA that Subway is now the largest kosher chain restaurant in the world.
This proves one thing: kosher may be at a higher ethical standard than non-kosher, but it is not at the highest ethical standard. Kosher is not as kosher as people think it is, or as it should be.
Subway is a nice place, don’t get me wrong. One non-kosher one opened across from our office and I go there a lot for a foot long avocado and tomato sub, with lettuce, hot peppers and oil and vinegar. Good deal. The primary taste of a Subway sandwich is crunchy and cold, which of course are not tastes. But it beats greasy, sugary and salty fast food, even if the vegetables spent more time in refrigerator warehouses than in the dirt.
The kosher Subway on Pico is a real ‘hood restaurant, especially on Sundays when it packs in families, 20 kids per young, stressed out couple it seems, and the counter help is working like Zabars fish-slicers on speed to keep up with the requests. (You can check out our video of it below.)
As for Subway’s meat sandwiches, the suppliers are Orthodox Union-certified kosher factory farms, which deliver the meat to the shops pre-sliced. At these factories, the well-being of the animal takes second-place to cost effective meat production. This is inherently less ethical than the higher standard of humane animal husbandry. But as anyone who has checked out the meat prices at Whole Foods knows, you don’t get 9 dollar corned beef subs by pasturing cows on grass and killing them via state-of-the-art humane techniques. According to failedmessiah.com:
I’m truly sorry to say this but, as things now stand, your only true option if you care about humane slaughter and humane growing of chickens, cattle and other kosher food animals is to go veg. That shouldn’t be the case. Sadly, however, it is.
That was written in 2007, before all the Agriprocessor folk, responsible for doing more to harm the “kosher” brand than 100 years of Reform Judaism, headed to the Big House.
Now, it may be that Subway, Wise and other kosher slaughterers adhere to the highest standards, but given the industry’s past the bottom line is this: the burden of proof is on them. Kosher consumers deserve, and must demand, absolute transparency in the entire kosher food chain, from husbandry to slaughter, including of course the treatment of employees. Without that the idea of kosher—one of the great gifts of the Jews to the world—will remain suspect, if not ridiculous.
Here’s Sue’s piece, followed by our Subway video…..
Eat fresh, eat kosher: Subway the largest U.S. kosher restaurant chain
By Sue Fishkoff
SAN FRANCISCO (JTA)—What’s the largest kosher restaurant chain?
Mendy’s? Six branches, seven if you count the meat and dairy counters at New York City’s Grand Central Station.
Dougie’s? Five branches in New York and New Jersey.
Don’t even bring up Nathan’s Famous—it stopped making kosher hot dogs altogether.
The dark-horse winner is Subway, the made-to-order sandwich giant poised to open its ninth kosher franchise Aug. 18 inside the Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Community Center in North Miami Beach, Fla. New Subways opening in Indianapolis and Skokie, Ill., will make it 11 by the end of the year. Five more are planned for next year.
Subway, the second largest fast-food franchise in the world, didn’t set out to be No. 1 in the kosher market. Staffers at company headquarters in Milford, Conn., seemed bemused by the news.
“Really?” laughed Kevin Kane in the marketing department.
Sure, 11 kosher stores pales in comparison to the 22,000 non-kosher Subways in the United States, or to the hundreds of halal Subways in England and the Arab world. But it’s more than anyone else is offering.
And it’s a creative solution for Jewish community centers that want to offer kosher food but don’t want to take the financial risk themselves. Some would rather offer no food than violate kosher law.
“There are very few JCCs that run successful food establishments,” says Eric Koehler, director of the JCC of Northern Virginia, which has never provided food services in its building. “In this economy, it doesn’t make sense to have something that loses $20,000 to $30,000 a year.”
That’s why the Mandel JCC in Cleveland rented space to the country’s first kosher Subway in May 2006. The center had offered only kosher dining options since it opened in 1986, but none lasted very long. When Michael Hyman arrived in 2004 as the center’s new director, he closed the building’s last struggling cafe without knowing whether he could replace it.
In stepped Ghazi Faddoul, a Lebanese Christian who had opened 100 Subways in Cleveland and was willing to give kosher a try with the clout of a global chain behind him.
Ham and bacon were removed from the menu, the “cheese” is made of soy, and the Seafood Sensation sandwich is filled with imitation crab. Two microwaves and toaster ovens ensure that fish and meat are kept separate, a consideration for more observant Jews. There is a full-time mashgiach, or kosher supervisor, and the restaurant is closed on Shabbat.
“It’s been wildly successful,” Hyman says.
In June, the JCC of Greater Washington in Rockville, Md., picked up on Cleveland’s experience, opening a kosher Subway in a space formerly filled by a kosher Dunkin’ Donuts. Executive director Michael Friedman says the center has been getting much more foot traffic since it opened, particularly from Orthodox Jews.
“There aren’t that many kosher restaurants in the D.C. area, so it’s nice for the community to have this option,” Friedman says. “And it’s great for us because it gets people into our building who might not otherwise be there.”
The Miami Beach JCC also looked to Cleveland’s example. The center’s director, Gary Bomzer, notes that the building already has an in-house kosher caterer, but no sit-down restaurant.
“Bringing in a national chain gives us real credibility,” he explains. “A brand name like Subway provides more than a cup of coffee.”
The remaining kosher Subways are freestanding stores: two in New York City, in Brooklyn and Queens, as well as one in Cedarhurst in the city’s Long Island suburbs; and one each in Los Angeles, Baltimore and Kansas City.
The U.S. stores are the only kosher Subways. Israel opened the world’s first kosher Subway in 1992 but the operation, which reached 23 stores at its peak, shut down in 2004 after the original manager died.
Subway spokesman Les Winograd says the company used its experience with halal, the Muslim standard, to learn how to deal with kashrut challenges such as sourcing specific meat and following strict dietary laws. The first halal Subway opened in Bahrain in 1984, followed by branches in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Tanzania, Zambia and other countries with large Muslim communities. England alone has nearly 60 halal branches.
Kosher Subways are more difficult to keep open, Winograd says. Some open and shut, like one that lasted for about a year in Livingston, N.J., and a Wall Street branch that closed last winter when the economy collapsed.
While Winograd receives lots of inquiries from potential franchise owners in other countries who are interested in the kosher option, none have panned out.
“The population has not always been there to support the business,” he says.
Subway serves meat, so a kosher store requires full-time kosher supervision—an extra expense added to ingredients that already cost more than their non-kosher equivalents.
Maurice Lichy, owner of the new Miami JCC Subway, says he’s trying to keep his prices “competitive” and hopes to charge no more than $1.50 extra per sandwich.
Will he offer a kosher $5 Footlong?
“No,” he says, “but I’ll try to manage a $6 Footlong. Probably tuna or turkey; not the corned beef.”