After months of planning and working with local rabbis, the Squirrel Hill Giant Eagle store’s kosher bakery is fully operational.
Two weeks ago the store held a soft opening; it went into full production mode last week.
“I was asked to take a look at it and see if we could do it,” said Larry Reuss, Giant Eagle’s senior director of bakery. “We thought it was the right thing to do.
“We talked to the rabbis and they said there was a need for a bakery,” he continued. “We started looking into it about four to five months ago.”
The bakery is able to make cakes, cookies, breads and a variety of other goods made to order. Everything is made in the store.
This is Giant Eagle’s first kosher bakery in any of its stores. The Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh certified the facility.
“We have had the rabbis working with us,” Reuss said, “checking ingredients, making sure things have been done the proper way.
“There was a lot of background work for us,” he continued. “We in essence created a whole new bakery. We have a lot of new products. There are things we couldn’t carry. We talked about that, had a lot of meetings about what we could do, couldn’t do. That was our approach to it.”
The Giant Eagle bakery is now the second kosher bakery on Murray Avenue. Sweet Tammy’s, which is less than a year old, is the only other full service kosher bakery.
While Giant Eagle’s bakery adds more competition, Sweet Tammy’s isn’t worried.
“Everything we make is from scratch,” said Daniel Berkowitz, general manager of Sweet Tammy’s. “We use zero preservatives and chemicals and only natural ingredients.
“We welcome anyone who wants to provide more kosher options, but we don’t anticipate Giant Eagle affecting our business much.”
Reuss did acknowledge that the goods coming out of the Giant Eagle bakery will be made from mixes.
“Mixes or from scratch is the same difference,” he said. “Someone just puts the ingredients together for you. Mixes are a little more consistent for us. That’s why we like them.”
Berkowitz sees Sweet Tammy’s and Giant Eagle offering different services to the Pittsburgh area.
“Most of our business is catering Jewish and not and providing people products out of the city,” Berkowitz said. “As far as competition, we don’t position ourselves as a kosher bakery, we are a bakery that happens to be kosher.”
While Giant Eagle’s kosher bakery will have goods out for sale on Saturdays, there will be no production and no one manning the counter during Shabbat.
“We don’t bake anything on Saturday,” Reuss said. “We have product out. The bakery itself is closed and the production is closed. We have no one at the counter. We’ll have things like cookies out; we try to fill that stuff up on Friday.”
So far Reuss said that the feedback from customers has been very positive.
“We’ve gotten really nice feedback from the community,” he said. “The customers at the store have really liked what we have done.”
As for future kosher bakeries at other stores, Reuss said that Giant Eagle will monitor the progress at the Squirrel Hill store and go from there. Although he did say that goods made at the Squirrel Hill store could be brought over to other stores to sell there.
“We are crawling before we walk here,” Reuss said. “There may be some opportunities to send these products to other stores.”
(Mike Zoller can be reached at email@example.com.)