Linden NJ…Hindy Gruber had a plan for an upscale kosher café, investing nearly $500,000 but 3 months after opening the doors to Bakeristore Covid hit. From that point on, Gruber laments, it has all been about survival. “The community is growing, and people are just so excited to resume normal dining,” she adds. Josh Massin of Narruto Bowl in Teaneck has had his share of similar problems including the frustrating conduct of contractors and the depressing labor scene. Formerly associated with another brand-name restaurant Nobo, he had to survive without the PPP, which kept many restaurants open. Albert Bijou who owns several Brooklyn pizzerias and a bagel shop and opened Bay Café in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn kept his operation hopping by maintaining contact with some of his larger clients including hospitals and nursing homes. “When people stopped ordering due to finances, I sent free pizzas including 100 pies to a hospital ward.”
Elan Kornblum, “The Restaurant Guy” – President of the Great Kosher Restaurants Media Group echoed what many of the restaurant owners told Kosher Today. “I was surprised that only a small handful of kosher restaurants went under during the pandemic.” Yet, he and others knowledgeable with the kosher restaurant business say that despite reopening and the incredible interest by diners, the restaurants still face many problems. The labor shortage has had an effect on service and even on their capacity to serve all those that desire to come. “Many long-time waiters and other staff have opted out during the pandemic and are unlikely to return,” Kornblum says. They can fare much better just by collecting special government grants and staying home. Others have moved on to other businesses and even to other communities. Hindy Gruber and several other kosher restaurateurs said they saw an uptick in demand every time a stimulus check was mailed out. But the summer so far has seen a huge spike in demand for indoor dining, especially in the Catskills and in Lakewood.
In addition to labor shortages, the restaurants also face spot shortages of ingredients and steadily rising prices. One restaurant manager said, “I never fell short on chicken until two weeks ago.” Some restaurants said that they watched their bills rise by as much as 20%. Amazingly, now that the diners are back the real challenge is for the restaurants to fight their way back to “normalcy.”