By Daniela Appel
As the world adjusts to a new normal, individuals and businesses are juggling the need for safety and the need to resume familiar routines for comfort. Texas Governer Greg Abbott announced a gradual reopening in Texas, including the capability for restaurants to open for dine-in at 25% capacity starting May 1. As everyone does the best they can to adjust in this unpredictable and uncertain time, local kosher restaurants adapt in efforts to serve the community and stay afloat.
Dallas Kosher advises on and oversees kashrut in local restaurants and has had to become inventive in how they uphold their standards, enforce CDC guidelines, and help each establishment with what they need along the way. DK establishments have been hit hard, says Meira Naor, executive director at Dallas Kosher. “The challenges have been devastating for the caterer’s world as they saw all their events canceled for most of the year,” Naor said. “Caterers and restaurants have had to reinvent their way of business to survive. Takeout menus, Shabbos specials, delivery services are just a few of the changes they have adapted to.”
DK has been doing what they can to help kosher restaurants stay afloat, including waiving certification fees, subsidizing mashgichim’s payroll, and tailoring amounts of supervision without compromising hashgacha (rabbinical supervision).
“Having a kosher restaurant requires supervision. We understand firsthand the financial burdens the restaurants and caterers are facing with the extreme drop in revenue. For over 50 years Dallas Kosher’s mission is to support kashrus in supervision, community service and education. We have seen a tremendous growth in kosher establishments in the last few years,” Naor said. “These uncertain times have been a real threat, doors to the establishments could close that so many people have worked so hard to bring to fruition. We hope all kosher establishments will survive and make it through COVID-19. Dallas Kosher is here for the community; we are here to help with what we can,” she added.
Efforts to remain of service to the kosher community have not been without struggle. Restaurants have had to adjust dining options, revamp their payroll, manage customer expectations, and try to stay open in hopes of better times. “This has never happened in the industry before. As soon as lockdown was announced, we connected with our restaurant friends, both kosher and non-kosher. Everyone is in ‘active drowning’ and we are trying to float. Nobody is making money but we’re trying to survive so we can continue being here when we can reopen. Thank God we have a community. It has shown,” said Jordona Kohn, owner of The Market.
Additionally, patrons sometimes struggle to come to terms with the way one of their pastimes, building community by eating out at these family owned restaurants, has been altered by these extenuating services. Howard Goldfeder, who owns Kosher Palate with his wife Miriam, says it can be hard to help their customers understand their business decisions.
“Managing people’s expectations is hard,” says Goldfeder. “People expect everything, and we can’t always do that now. Nobody has done this before in history. We don’t know what’s going on and so we’re making the best decisions based on the knowledge we have at this point. We are making it up as best we can. Please be patient.”
Restaurant owners also are missing the sense of community, camaraderie, and fun that takes place in their dining rooms, especially for Simchas and Shabbos. “We usually have a large dining room for Shabbos and right now we don’t and it’s sad. We are missing companionship and having people coming in to have camaraderie and fun,” says Goldfeder.
Aderet owner Liron Telman concurs. “I miss my customers. I am still getting phone calls but it’s not the same. I miss mingling and our old life, just like everyone else. [I miss seeing my customers] happy,” While restaurant owners miss their patrons, they also are taking it upon themselves to make sure their decisions do not jeopardize the well-being of the community.
“We are looking to open for dining slowly. We want to make sure everyone is healthy and not jeopardize everyone. Working on doing it the right way to keep employees and customers healthy,” Telman added.
Additionally, due to the financial consequences of COVID-19, families and individuals are needing to cut back on expenses. Many have faced paycheck cuts and job loss. One area some are reducing spending on is eating out, which means like others, kosher resturants are facing a loss of revenue and regular customers. Fino’s Joey Ohayon explains that “[We have] been around for a long time. Went through the last recession. This is unique. These are interesting times we’re all living and trying to find our way through.”
Despite the challenges posed during this time, the community has rallied together to support one another and their favorite local businesses. “The Dallas community is amazing. From the beginning of this crisis a group of anonymous donors banded together to donate $10 for every $50 DK members spent at DK establishments during the week before Passover. I am [also] impressed with the tenacity of each business owner during these challenging times. They are in survival mode and they are doing everything they can think of. They have rent to pay, employees to pay, suppliers to pay, this is one of the hardest hit industries.”
Naor added that she is not surprised that the Jewish community has responded with a “what can we do to help?” attitude.
Business owners definitely feel the love. “There have been people who are supporting the best they can and making sure we’re OK and checking in about us and our families and seeing if we need help and are sharing our posts on social media,” said Jordona Kohn. “It’s touching to know the Dallas Jewish community has our back and supports us. We feel it. [We are] here for the community and it is nice to have a home here.”
Monster Yogurt’s Ava Skidworth says the kosher community’s support “warms her heart.”
And it is not just businesses the community is rallying around; everyone is showing up for each other by helping make sure struggling families have funds to get by, picking up groceries and supplies for those who cannot themselves, and providing food. “People in the community are making sure singles are being fed and taken care of and are buying things for other people. Everybody is working together,” said Howard Goldfeder.
Even with these overwhelming challenges, restaurant owners continue to be innovative to serve their customers. Joey Ohayon seeks to find the good in the midst of hardship. “[If we look at this from the lens of divine presence, [this is telling us] to step back and realize what we’ve taken for granted. [People have had] lightbulb moments and realizations in personal and work life. Good can come out of bad. The bottom line is we are all in this together. We need to be here for each other in any capacity,” Ohayon said.