By Sharon Wisch-Ray
Lowell Michelson is often the guy people turn to in their time of need. On Tuesday, May 14, the owner of Simcha Kosher Catering became the recipient of an outpouring of support when a seven-alarm fire swept through his Farmers Branch headquarters starting about 7:45 p.m.
“Obviously, I’m in shell shock,” Michelson told the TJP Tuesday. “All I could think about was the service to the community that I owe. I had jobs to go out starting Wednesday morning.”
Michelson’s lifelong friend, Harry Schick, came to the scene as the fire burned and asked, “What can I do?”
“Will you please call Shaare Tefilla — Jacques Ohayon is the volunteer who oversees the kitchen and the rabbi — to see if we can use their facilities?” Michelson responded.
Shortly after, Michelson got a call from his fellow kosher caterer and longtime friend, Chaim Goldfeder, owner of the Kosher Palate and Texas Kosher BBQ.
“He felt terrible, and said ‘What can I do?’”
Goldfeder loaned Michelson equipment and a van.
In addition to dealing with the trauma of watching his business burn down, Michelson had to stay focused on his obligations for the week — a full complement of catering jobs, The Star on Wednesday, the Federation Pacesetter lunch on Thursday, a bris on Friday morning, Shabbat dinner on Friday night, a Kiddush lunch on Saturday and another bris on Sunday. He also had his regular hotel and hospital clients for which he provides Dallas Kosher-certified meals.
“We’ve made it, we are fully functioning and full speed ahead,” he said.
Michelson said he couldn’t have done it without the “amazing” Dallas Jewish community.
In particular, he is grateful to Shaare Tefilla’s Rabbi Ariel Rackovsky; its executive director, Robyn Mirsky; and its lay leadership.
“I’m usually the one helping. It’s not easy for me to ask for help,” Michelson explained.
He added that his staff has been there every step of the way. “They’ve all jumped in.”
The fire starts
The fire began about 7:45 p.m. Tuesday, May 14. A three-person team representing Beth Torah’s Kosher BBQ competition was inside the premises waiting for Michelson to arrive when they smelled smoke. Michelson was en route to the meeting from a 250-person event for HaYovel Israel at Glenn Beck’s Irving studio, when Brian Rubinstein phoned him to say, ‘Your building is on fire.’” The trio had already called 911.
At first, Michelson wasn’t too concerned. He thought it was probably in the kitchen and knew that they had the latest in fire suppressant technology to deal with commercial kitchen grease fires.
As he approached the area, he could see black smoke billowing. When he arrived, he was surprised to learn that the fire had started in the warehouse.
“It was a perfect storm,” he said.
Michelson explained it officially hasn’t been determined how cotton rags, towels and aprons accidentally caught fire. Next to the textiles was a wooden shelf, which was adjacent to many cardboard boxes and wicker baskets. The fire caught and spread quickly through the 12,000-square-foot building.
It took three ladder trucks — seven in all — and close to four hours for firefighters from Farmers Branch, Carrollton and Addison to extinguish the flames.
The building has been deemed a total loss and structurally unsound.
Michelson said he is grateful to be properly insured and his agent, Barney Schwartz, has been helping him to navigate what comes next.
“We’ve already purchased a lot of new equipment and plates,” Michelson said.
Because the event Simcha was catering Tuesday night was so large, they were able to salvage a lot of their dishes, serving pieces and utensils and on-site catering equipment.
Business as usual
A week after the fire, Michelson says he’s providing his customers with the service they deserve and trusted him with.
“We’ve made it,” he said, though he’s not sure what will come next.
“The best analogy I can use is that this is like a baseball game. It’s only the first inning, and I’m not sure how this game is going to turn out. Today I’m in the second inning.”
One thing he is certain of is that he won’t be letting his clients down.
“I have a wedding this weekend for 350 people and they are going to have everything they need. Everything that’s promised.”
Michelson reiterated that he wouldn’t be in this position without the community’s support.
“We’re business as usual,” he said. “And we owe it to an amazing community and staff.”