February 4, 2013

Developer Seeks to Open Kosher Restaurant on Lower East Side Site of Jewish Vegetarians

NEW YORK — Michael Bolla, a Managing Director at Douglas Elliman, major New York developers, has a dream of resuscitating the rich culture of the Jewish Lower East Side. Amongst his projects was the conversion of the old Forward building into condos for the rich and famous. 

He has another dream up his sleeve. He wants to open a kosher restaurant at 171 Broadway, where the Schildkraut restaurant, an icon for Jewish vegetarians, once stood. It was part of a chain of restaurants whose advertisements appeared frequently in the Yiddish-and English-language Jewish press extolling the virtues of Nutolin, Nutose and Protose, “vegetable meats of excellent taste and quality and easily digestible.” 

By the 1930s, there were 15 Schildkraut’s Vegetarian Restaurants sprinkled throughout the Big Apple, where “real food à la Schildkraut,” was readily available. The chain was the creation of Sadie Schildkraut, that self-styled “mother of cooked vegetarian dishes,” and grew out of her unique way with vegetables, prepared so that “they looked and tasted like meat.” At 171 East Broadway, a stone’s throw from the Forward building, at 4 West 28th Street and at 221 West 36th Street, in the heart of the garment center, protose steak, mushroom cutlet and creamed beets awaited the dedicated eater. 

Although the chain lacked rabbinic endorsement, let alone rabbinic supervision, it prided itself on its attentiveness to the dietary laws. The kosher consumer, in an era where kashrus was underdeveloped, was not the only audience for the kind of vegetarian cuisine served up daily at Schildkraut’s. So, too, were the members of the Yidisher Vegetarian Society of New York, who believed in vegetarianism less as an exercise in gastronomy and more as a moral philosophy. 

Ron Castellano, Bolla’s long time business partner has completely restored the space and is looking for a partner to come in and operate it. Castellano spent $1.5M million to restore the restaurant and has secured all the necessary licenses. He is looking for an investing partner to open the site as a kosher restaurant. For Bolla, an Orthodox Jew, this would be a big step in his plans for the cultural restoration of the Jewish Lower East Side.