Local kosher food purveyors adapt in wake of COVID-19
COVID-19Local kosher establishments feel the heat

Local kosher food purveyors adapt in wake of COVID-19

Lines, distancing and closures

Shoppers wait in line, six feet apart, to enter Murray Avenue Kosher. 
Photo by Jim Busis
Shoppers wait in line, six feet apart, to enter Murray Avenue Kosher. Photo by Jim Busis

Call it a new COVID-19 springtime custom. Amy Schuler waited in line in Squirrel Hill recently to be one of the nine people at a time allowed inside Murray Avenue Kosher. Once inside, she said “it was an overall surreal experience.”

“It felt like a much larger place,” said Schuler, whose children go to Yeshiva Schools in Pittsburgh. “Even with the expansion there, it’s still small for our community. I did feel like I was well-spaced, compared to Giant Eagle, where I was on top of people.”

Murray Avenue Kosher wasn’t the only kosher business adapting to survive — or thrive — around Passover in the time of the novel coronavirus. Jewish-owned businesses in Pittsburgh whose owners spoke with the Chronicle said they were trying to think outside the box to best serve Pittsburgh’s kosher community.

Milky Way took orders over the phone, adapted their menu to slim down on produce, and worked to keep everything cashless, delivering food to take-out customers outside the Murray Avenue establishment. Hamsah, a Mediterranean restaurant that opened last summer, also switched into heavy takeout mode.

“We’re trying to survive,” Hamsah owner Nissim Assouline said. “We’ll see what’s going to happen.”

Kosher cooks also tried to be inventive while still preparing meals for Passover.

Judah Cowen said his business, Elegant Edge Catering Company, is used to preparing catered meals for seders with up to 400 people. That’s not so in 2020, in the age of social distancing.

“There are lots of small seders this year so we’re pivoting to à la carte ordering,” Cowen said. “After Passover, we’re planning to do multiple take-out nights per week.”

“We’re trying to make things exciting in a big way,” he added.

The caterer, who prepares meals in Congregation Beth Shalom’s kitchen, also is doing curbside delivery outside of the Squirrel Hill synagogue, he said. No customers are allowed inside his business under any circumstances.

“Stay safe and healthy, knowing that we are going beyond your expectations to continue to present outstanding food and service,” Cowen wrote on the company’s Facebook page. “We look forward to warm weather, easy days, good health and seeing you soon!”

Moshe Barber of the local Kosher business VegOut Cuisine — which has always been modeled on delivery service — is hoping to seize on the public’s growing interest in health.

“Of course, the healing of chronic degenerative diseases helps the immune system,” said Barber, a Squirrel Hill resident who cooks downtown at Beth Hamedrash Hagodol — Beth Jacob Congregation. Plant-based whole foods can aid healing, he said.

To illustrate, he points to a menu full of bold flavors such as pumpkin potato soup, mock chopped liver and an organic blueberry tart sweetened with house-made date paste.

The Kosher shop Pigeon Bagels, located in Squirrel Hill, on the other hand, closed recently in the shadow of COVID-19.
“Pigeon is closed and no longer taking orders,” the company announced on its website. “Stay tuned for some special bulk sales TBD. If you would like to support the Pigeon staff while we are closed you can donate to our virtual tip jar.”

Eighteen, the café at Pinsker’s, encouraged patrons to call about take-out and hours before stopping by. Its owners also encouraged diners to purchase a COVID-19-themed “Flatten the Curve” T-shirt to support businesses affected by the pandemic. PJC

Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.

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