January 22, 2013

2013: The year of ÒSink or SwimÓ for the Kosher Restaurant

NEW YORK— For those following the latest news in the restaurant industry, it’s easy to see how 2013 is quickly becoming a year of “sink or swim” for the kosher establishment. In recent months, several well-known established kosher restaurants, such as Shang Chai of Brooklyn and Kosher Delight of Manhattan, have closed their doors after decades of service. On the other end of the spectrum, such prominent restaurants as The Prime Grill expanded to new locations, and newer, more exotic restaurants like Pardes are flourishing. 

So what’s at the bottom of this trend? Are kosher consumers changing their mind about what a dining experience should be? Elan Kornblum, Editor of Great Kosher Restaurants, is of the opinion that the recent spate of changes is a coincidence. At the same time, he agrees that the kosher dining experience has evolved, and any business looking to grow must evolve with changing times.

Chinese food, once a mainstay in Jewish cuisine (as well as Jewish comedy), has been surpassed by those looking for a more elegant experience. “Shang Chai was an established Chinese restaurant with a large party room,” says Elan. “Recently, its popularity was dropping because the cuisine simply wasn’t matching the venue — people don’t want to serve Chinese at a sheva brachos anymore.” The new generation, Elan continued, is looking for something new. “Look at Pardes, Jezebel, Ladino Tapas, Abigael’s, Mikes’ Bistro. Not too long ago, these stores wouldn’t have survived. Now, they are at the height of popularity, since they’re offering something different, whether Asian, Spanish, French, or Japanese food.” As traditional Jewish cuisine expands to include many new flavors, consumers are eager to try out foods that, a few years ago, they wouldn’t have touched.

As Shang Chai and Kosher Delight – Manhattan go the way of tens of delis that dotted the streets of New York, we’re left wondering what the kosher restaurant industry will look like 10 years from now. “It’s a cycle,” says Elan. “Just like anything else, foods go in and out of style. It’s impossible to predict what will come next- and that’s what makes it all so exciting.” Once you leave New York, the changes are far less dramatic but new restaurants do pop up now and then and closings do happen, but irrespective 2013 will be an interesting year to watch in the kosher restaurant business.

Photo courtesy of The Prime Grill