At the Sunday farmers market in Squirrel Hill, sandwiched between the coffee vendors, homemade jams and tables of fruits and vegetables, kosher-observant Jews can find a stall all for them. Chef.Rabbi, which makes and sells wraps, is run by husband-and-wife duo Moish and Rochel Tombosky and began its stint at the market just a few weeks ago.
Rochel Tombosky said that the idea for the stand came from Alec Rieger, founder of NextGen:Pgh, an organization that seeks to “engage, empower and mobilize the community by bringing people together in new, exciting ways,” according to its website. Rieger thought it was a shame that there were no kosher food stalls at the farmers market, especially given the large population of Orthodox Jews in the neighborhood.
According to Tombosky, Rieger thought it would be great for someone to start one, “so the observant community could also partake.” Her husband had been in the food industry “for a gazillion years, so it just seemed like a good match,” she said.
The couple spent the next year working on all the documentation they would need to open a stand: a license from Citiparks and kosher certification from the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh. One week after Shavuot, they debuted their stand and their wraps at the farmers market.
“It seems to be an amazing hit,” said Tombosky, estimating that about 100 people stop by the stall each day. “It’s become a hangout place. We get a lot of people who want to talk to us.”
Many are interested by the intersection of chef and rabbi. But, said Tombosky, they don’t just come to talk. They come to eat as well.
Tombosky laughed as she remembered a man walking up to the stand and telling the couple that he was stopping by on his wife’s orders. She’d been at the market the week before and said that it smelled so good that he should look into it. Tombosky told him, “She didn’t taste it, right? I know, because if she did, she wouldn’t have told you to look into it. She would have told you to buy one.”
The market is “a very nice working environment,” said Tombosky, with nearby vendors leaving them garlic and onions for the wraps. It’s the “only farmers market in all of Pittsburgh with a kosher tent,” though the foot traffic the Tomboskys get is mostly nondenominational.
That’s fine for the couple, who began the stall as a fundraiser for the nondenominational organization they founded a year ago, Giving It Forward, Together (GIFT). A designated 501(c)(3), GIFT is all about “engaging the aging,” said Tombosky. Through programs and classes, the organization seeks to involve older citizens in meaningful activities that also benefit the community at large. So members who attend a jewelry-making class will then donate the pieces they create to Dress for Success. The skills they gain will be used in “a very real way.”
Half of the proceeds from the Chef.Rabbi stall will be used to fund another GIFT program beginning in August. The organization plans to purchase backpacks and school supplies, which will be assembled by homebound elderly and then distributed to needy children in Squirrel Hill, Braddock and Butler. Tombosky said that they hope to raise enough money for 100 backpacks.
“We will be there until October, when the farmers market is complete,” she said. If all goes well, the couple hopes to return next summer.
Masha Shollar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.