July 11, 2011

A Kosher Restaurant on Wall Street Ð New Concept and New Challenges

New York…Wall Street isn’t known for being a kosher food connoisseur’s haven, but all that might have changed with the opening of Milk Street Café two weeks ago. Located at 40 Wall Street on the ground floor of the Trump building, the Boston-based owners are betting that a resurging downtown area will eventually make it a key destination for Wall Street bankers and other executives. The rapidly rising new World Trade Center will also add thousands to an area that has undergone major change that began with 9/11.The change includes thousands of new housing units. During a press briefing last Wednesday, Marc Epstein, his wife, son, and daughter, showed off the glistening three kitchens (pareve, dairy, and meat) that are part of the 23,000 square feet of space in one of Wall Street’s most celebrated areas. The restaurant is just a stone’s throw from the entrance to the New York Stock Exchange, perhaps adding countless tourists to a restaurant that is not being billed as kosher but as “having great food that happens to be kosher,” says Mr. Epstein. For those that are kosher, the café is a Godsend, delivering quality food to an area long underserved by kosher eateries, although many like La Marais have come and gone. “This has been a longtime dream of mine,” said Mr. Epstein, who still commutes to Boston for weekends to check in on his flagship restaurant and in solidarity of his beloved Red Sox. “When the space became available for a multi-tiered and three separate kitchen facilities I jumped at it, knowing I could create something great.” Milk Street Café first opened in Boston in November of 1981 and this is Epstein’s first foray into the ravenous New York City kosher market.

While many visitors marvel at the beautiful décor and upscale look of a food court like no other in the City, the buzz that day was the unprecedented combination of dairy, pareve and meat, all under one roof, a first for any major kosher restaurant in New York City. From the moment Mr. Epstein came up with the idea, he reached out to the Orthodox Union (OU) and according to Rabbi Moshe Elefant, COO of the Kashrus Division of the OU, it is working. A team of no less than five full-time kosher supervisors, at least one of whom is always present when the kitchen is in operation, an intense job, as the bakery at Milk Street functions all night long to ensure a steady fresh supply of baked goods for consumers. The kitchen and serving staff, numbering at over 100, are color coded by their culinary class, meat, dairy, or pareve, enabling a seamless kashrus environment, where no mistakes are bound to occur. The kitchen is fitted with color coded tile arrangements, with separate tile colors for meat, dairy, and pareve. To assure than there is absolutely no crossing of utensils, everything is disposable. Overall, it’s an impressive undertaking, and one that might just change the way we think about kosher food establishments.

Milk Street Café employs Steve Mettle, formerly of AIG, as their executive chef in addition to a head pastry chef, and prides itself on making from scratch foods sourced from local farm to table whenever possible. “We want our kosher food to be as good or better as the non-kosher options available,” Mr. Epstein said. As for the financials, well, “Were hoping to get a lot of corporate accounts,” said Mr. Epstein. “In Boston it’s about 85% of our business.”