Few kosher eateries jump through the necessary hoops to open for Passover,
but those who do are rewarded with good PR and new customers.
What’s a hamburger without its bun? Well it’s what’s on the menu at kosher restaurants across New York City, as they scrub down their kitchens and revamp their menus for the Passover holiday.
While most kosher eateries shut their doors for the week, a handful of restaurants will brave the trials and tribulations of opening for Passover.
“I find it one of the easiest holidays to cook for,” said Jeff Nathan, owner and chef at Abigael’s restaurant in Midtown, which will be open for Passover this year.
Nathan says the restaurant staff “start mentally preparing” for the holiday a month in advance, putting away certain things, and moving around equipment in storage. Then after a thorough cleaning from floor to ceiling, the place is closed for a day to be kashered, before reopening with a flour-free and bread-free menu.
“I find it kind of weird with everyone putting out items like fake flour, fake hot dog buns and fake hamburger buns,” said Nathan. “If you can’t go 10 days without eating [bread], you got issues.”
So diners at Abigael’s can chow down on chopped Asian salad with pepper-seared tuna, followed by grilled skirt steak san pedro with a side of pico de gallo and roasted potatoes.
While there is a lot of preparation to open for the food-centered but food-challenging holiday, Nathan has been doing it for 15 years, and wouldn’t have it any other way. “I don’t make money but I don’t lose money,” he said. But in addition to the finances, Nathan is happy to keep his staff working and the restaurant churning.
“People want to work,” he said. “As it is, they’re off Jewish holidays.”
For those looking for a more casual eatery to grab a bite during the intermediate days, Mendy’s delicatessen will be keeping its 34th Street branch open.
“We’ve got it down to a science,” said Steven Katchen, the manager at Mendy’s, of the cleaning process. “It takes us about a day to clean out everything,” he said, before the kosher supervisors arrive with blowtorches and boiling water to make the final switch.
After that, a slimmed down deli will be on offer, plus some additional, Passover-friendly items like matzah and mushroom farfel.
“Mendy feels like he owes it to the customer to always be open,” said Katchen.
And he can’t deny that staying open is a good business model: he expects Thursday, April 20 — the only day of Passover that is not a yom tov, Shabbat, erev yom tov or erev Shabbat—to be “our single busiest day of the year.”
The upscale Le Marais restaurant in Midtown gets busier before the holiday even begins, as customers order takeout to cater their holiday meals. The eatery will be open this year during Hol HaMoed (the intermediate days) as well as for the seders, serving a pared-down menu including veal chops in wild mushroom sauce and roasted beet salad.
“We do a much more limited menu than usual,” said Jose Meirelles, co-owner of Le Marais and Clubhouse Café (which is across the street from Le Marais and will not open for Passover) “and we send it for approval” to the kosher agency. Then they have an overnight cleaning crew come in, before finally switching the kitchen over to creating Passover delicacies.
“It’s not really a profitable proposition,” Meirelles said, of closing the restaurant to prepare for the holiday. “I think it’s profitable on a public relations side, and people know that you are open. A lot of new people who have never been to Le Marais come,” he said. “On that sense I think it is a very good idea to be open.”
Other restaurants opening their doors for Passover this year include Talia’s Steakhouse, My Most Favorite Food, Darna and The Prime Grill.
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