Kosher restaurants like many businesses, continue to navigate through a morass of uncertainty. And every community has its own array of rapidly changing policies. In this series, we’ll be connecting with OU Kosher food establishments around the country to see how they’re handling the new realities of running their businesses under the stress of Covid-19.
This week we spoke to two restaurateurs on the East and West coast to see how they’re fairing.
Mike’s Bistro – New York, NY
This past week, we had an eye-opening discussion with Michael Gershkovitz, a New York restauranteur, who is the owner of a prominent restaurant, Mike’s Bistro, located on 54th street between Lexington and Park Avenue. He’s celebrating the 16th anniversary of opening his restaurant.
He told us that during these times the key is to be positive. He said that when he’s positive the phone rings and when he’s negative things turn in the wrong direction.
He analogizes his situation to the Manna in the dessert, where Jews were only allowed to collect exact rations for that day and no more. By collecting more, it showed a lack of faith in G-d. His father calls him every night and asks him how much “Manna” he collected that day.
Michael receives hundreds of emails and texts on a daily basis from customers who give him encouragement and well wishes. He has built strong relationships with customers and looks forward to greeting them in person when there is a return to normal business operations.
He recounts how Noach Dear z”l, a past Brooklyn councilman and judge who passed away when the Covid-19 pandemic began, used to eat at his restaurant regularly. In his last visit to the restaurant, on March 18, he came to give Michael chizzuk, taking pictures of the food and sending it to all his acquaintances encouraging them to visit the restaurant. Michael said Mr. Dear had a hobby of making Michael’s life easier asking for nothing in return. He also inspired Michael to learn the daf. Michael said the loss weighs heavily on him.
He says that his restaurant is all about tradition and trust. There would be times that he would sit three generations, the grandfather, father and son at one table, illustrating the generational togetherness that’s enjoyed at the Bistro. He’s very proud of the fact that his customers are a mix of all kinds of Jews from all different locations.
He’s always happy to tell his Jewish customers that his food is not just to cater to the Jewish clientele but is comparable in taste and quality to what any any non-kosher restaurant would offer. He has many videos illustrating how he makes his dishes from scratch. He’s famous for his French onion soup and if you ask him, he will give you his personal recipe for corn soup.
He takes great pride in the fact that a lot of tzedakah meetings are held at his restaurant where yeshivas and institutions raise money. Hatzalah has fundraising meetings there as well. He also looks forward to welcoming back the lawyers, bankers and other professionals that enjoy congregating at his restaurant for business and excellent food.
As our conversation was wrapping up, he told me he’s getting calls and he has to go. Indeed, the Manna was falling from heaven.
La Gondola – Beverly Hills, CA
La Gondola is the only kosher restaurant in Beverly Hills, a particular city that is experiencing a recent uptick of confirmed cases of Covid-19.
The definition of elegance, the La Gondola restaurant has been open for more than 25 years and has a reputation for offering dishes that cater to every pallet. Their repertoire is constantly evolving, and they have appetizers and entrees that meet the wants of their customers.
Nir Weinblut, the owner, provided us with an intimate portrait of the Beverly Hills scene. He noted that his restaurant is following strict social distancing guidelines, such as requiring patrons to make advance reservations to provide adequate space between tables and additional washing stations throughout the restaurant.
In contrast, many nearby bars are overflowing with people crowded together, which he believes is contributing to the spike in transmission. Recently he had to close because of local riots and now he’s concerned about how the spike is going to affect his business. Most recently by law he was allowed to have sixty percent occupancy. Even though it is significantly less than usual, he feels positive, because until now sales were done via pickup and delivery.
Another blow to his business related to corona is the decrease in travel, particularly his East Coast customers who are traveling less or not at all. As an alternative, Nir offers catering for Shabbat and vacations, in addition to large scale events.
For readers who are interested in tasting a sample of La Gondola’s finest from the comfort of their home, Nir also ships specialty dishes across the country. He’s especially proud of his candy beef bacon dish, which is in high demand in the whole United States. In addition, he has created a unique clientele, specifically Jewish vacationers to Hawaii, where he Fed-Ex’s orders there (although this aspect of the business has been affected by corona, too).
Nir says the silver lining of the current crisis is that he can review his business and see how he can streamline it for the future making any necessary cuts he feels are wasteful. He holds out hope that cases will start to come down in the near future so he will be able return once again to serving customers at full capacity.