August 28, 2013
Kosher mart reopens, remade
The storefront on Pico Boulevard that for decades was known as Doheny Kosher Meat Market reopened on Aug. 20 under new ownership and new management and with a new name: Beverly Hills Kosher.
Doheny Kosher shut its doors amid scandal in late March, after the Rabbinical Council of California (RCC), the consortium of local Orthodox rabbis that had certified Doheny as kosher, revoked its seal of approval from the market.
Since then, ownership of the business — including its distribution arm, which once commanded a significant share of the wholesale market for kosher meat in Southern California — has changed hands three times, most recently to Rabbi Shlomo Bistritsky, a Chabad rabbi in the Conejo Valley. Rabbi Berel Cohen, who until recently was the program director of the Chabad Jewish Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, has been hired to manage the shop and serve as one of its two on-site kosher overseers.
Some changes have been made to the shop: Outside, its green awning is gone, and the new name is painted directly onto the brick façade along with the words “Artisan Butcher.” But inside, it all looks familiar. Indeed, many of the employees who worked for Doheny are back behind the counter.
Beverly Hills Kosher’s certification may be the same as Doheny’s was — a certificate taped to the store’s front window states that the RCC certifies all meats sold there as “glatt kosher” — but according to Rabbi Meyer May, president of the RCC, certain aspects of the supervision have changed.
Doheny had just one on-site supervisor, or mashgiach, who was assigned to watch its operations. That supervisor was told to remain at the store at all times, but in a surveillance video shot in March 2013, he was seen leaving Doheny’s parking lot, reportedly on his way to morning prayers. Moments later, the video showed the store’s longtime owner, Mike Engelman, instructing an employee to bring boxes of unidentified meat products into the store.
The RCC now requires two on-site kosher supervisors at Beverly Hills Kosher, May said.
“We have protocols in place, and I think that we have served the community appropriately, and will continue to serve the community appropriately,” May told the Journal on Aug. 23.
Other such protocols are easy to spot. On Aug. 23, a reporter observed some wrapped cuts of meat in the store’s refrigerated display cases bearing labels that read, “RCC KosherSeal. Tamper Evident Seal. Assures Kashrut Integrity,” which prevent kosher meats from being tampered with between the time they are packaged and when they are placed on the shelves.
Inside the shop on a Friday afternoon, a few patrons were doing some last-minute shopping for Shabbat. Esther Renzer, who described herself as a regular at the former Doheny Meats, came to pick up a box of meat she had preordered.
Over the past four months, she said, she had been purchasing her meat at Glatt Mart on Pico, a few blocks east of Beverly Hills Kosher; she returned because she appreciated the level of service Doheny had provided, and was not disappointed by the new owners.
“It’s the only personalized butcher shop in town where they really know you and service you,” Renzer said as she loaded a box with flanken-cut beef short ribs, lamb chops and chicken into the trunk of her car parked on Pico, just outside the store.
But where Doheny was the largest distributor of kosher animal products under RCC supervision, the new owner said Beverly Hills Kosher is doing only retail business right now.
“We’re getting the retail set up well — as you can imagine, it’s been closed for a few months, and there are a lot of kinks that you need to get out of the startup,” Bistritsky told the Journal on Aug. 25. “The wholesale will come after.”
Bistritsky is the third owner of the shop in the past five months. In the immediate aftermath of the Doheny scandal, the RCC helped facilitate a quick sale of the shop to Shlomo Rechnitz, a local businessman and philanthropist.
At the time, Rechnitz and the RCC’s May both described the purchase as a community-minded one. By keeping Doheny from going out of business, Rechnitz would help ensure that at least one large distributor of kosher meat would be certified by the RCC. Kehilla Kosher, a competing agency, oversees the city’s two other large distributors — City Glatt and Western Kosher — and May and Rechnitz said that consolidation in the market for kosher meat would not be good for consumers.
As it happened, the disappearance of Doheny from the scene did not appear to have any impact on the prices of kosher meat in Los Angeles.
Two weeks after he bought the shop, Rechnitz told the Journal he had sold it to David Kagan, who owns Western Kosher. Kagan declined to speak with the Journal at the time, or even confirm that he had in fact bought the store — but over the weeks that followed, multiple individuals with knowledge of the situation told the Journal that Kagan did own the shop at that time. (Kagan had hired a handful of the workers who had been employed at Doheny to work at Western Kosher’s Pico Boulevard location. Now that Beverly Hills Kosher is back in business, those workers are back at their old place of employment.)
Bistritsky told the Journal on Aug. 25 that Kagan, a longtime friend, had sold the shop to him about eight weeks earlier, around the beginning of July — but only after trying and failing to come up with a solution acceptable to both the RCC, which certified Doheny, and Kehilla, which oversees Western Kosher’s two retail locations.
“He [Kagan] was running into issues with the RCC and Kehilla, and he was getting very frustrated,” Bistritsky said. “He got to a point where he called me up and said, ‘Look, if you want this opportunity, it’s available.’ ”
Reached by phone at Western Kosher on Friday afternoon, Kagan confirmed that he no longer has an ownership stake in the store formerly known as Doheny; he said his only involvement in the shop is now “as a vendor.”
For his part, Bistritsky, 43, is no stranger to the business of kosher food; his father ran a kosher specialty food store for 30 years on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In addition to his role as a director of the Chabad of Oak Park in the Conejo Valley, Bistritsky also owns a finance company.
While Bistritsky said he hopes Beverly Hills Kosher will be financially successful, he said he also recognizes the symbolic aspects of this investment.
“I think this whole debacle gave kosher food in our city a very bad name, and I’d like to believe that if the right people put the right heart and soul into it, good things can come of it,” Bistritsky said.