Four Kosher Food Spots on the Upper West Side Close Down; What Gives?

By Alex Israel

As 2018 comes to a close this month, four kosher businesses –Seasons (661 Amsterdam Avenue), Chocolate Works (641 Amsterdam) near 91st Street, Big Bang Burger (426 Amsterdam) near 80th, and CoffeeBerry (618 Amsterdam) near 90th – have closed their doors on the Upper West Side.

In a city with more and more vacant storefronts, keeping small businesses running is a challenge. Despite a local demand for kosher establishments, high rent paired with the necessary regulation from the glatt kosher industry puts them at even more of a disadvantage, some say.

Chocolate Works, a candy store with twenty locations across the country, found it “impossible” to negotiate after reaching the end of their seven-year lease on the Upper West Side, store manager Natalie Serussi told WSR. “The rent doubled … We were forced to close this location,” she said. “It’s really a shame.” Asked about the rent increase, Aaron Gavios of Gavios Realty Group, which is attempting to rent the space, told us that “my understanding is that is not accurate.” He did not elaborate.

WSR reported earlier this month on gourmet supermarket Seasons‘ plans for closure due to their parent company’s bankruptcy. A manager there told us that investors bought the other stores, but not the Manhattan location.

Big Bang Burger, a burger joint that opened in 2017, served their last meal on December 23. They shared a note on their Facebook page thanking Upper West Siders for visiting, and are hosting an auction on January 3rd to sell their restaurant equipment. As owner Dr. Gabriel Ethan Feldman told the Forward, between the costs of rent and kosher inspections it was impossible to keep the doors open.

The 750-foot space on 426 Amsterdam Ave, which did not have a bathroom, cost Feldman and his business partner, Jane Potter (a platonic friend he met on JDate) $13,000 a month. He paid over $60,000 a year for kosher inspections, which was “virtually like paying another rent,” said Feldman. “It’s dealing with another oversight organization that has, if not as much power as the city, then maybe more. You’re better off not getting involved with the glatt kosher meat industry.”

CoffeeBerry, a café and healthy eatery that opened in 2015, also closed abruptly earlier this month, despite initially planning for renovations. A recent Yelp review underscores the loss felt by the community: “Was great. Big selection. Quality food. Now it’s closed. No word from the owners. Sad.”

Heading into the new year, optimistic locals looking for kosher options can turn to newer restaurants like Boru Boru (774 Amsterdam Avenue), which opened its doors in 2018 and serves pastrami ramen, and Amsterdam Burger Co. (680 Columbus Avenue at 93rd Street), which plans to open in 2019.

FOOD, NEWS, OPEN/CLOSED | 37 comments | permalink
    1. Ben David says:

      Rising rents are a problem for many small businesses in Manhattan, and the situation has become considerably worse under de Blasio.

      At the same time, SOME kosher stores and restaurants are often lacking in good management and sound customer service, unfortunately. For example, Kosher Marketplace on Broadway (in a more expensive location) is thriving.

      • Devorah says:

        I wonder if there is a relationship between “good management and sound customer service”, and the “education” being doled out at yeshivas. These students may have wonderful Biblical knowledge, but nothing is being taught about creating business plan, or how to deal with the public, let alone the NYC bureaucracy and regulations.

    2. Richard says:

      $5k a month for Kosher Inspections?? Who is doing it Moses himself? Sounds like a complete scam. That’s who sis to blame for non-kosher food service. The inspector.

    3. Aviva says:

      Amsterdam Burger Company isn’t new. It is moving to where Elizabeth’s used to be and renaming itself New Amsterdam Bar and Grill or something like that.

      So, it’s going to be a nice welcome back to the neighborhood. They’ve needed a larger space since turning into Masterdam Burger from Mike’s Pizza years ago.

    4. UWS friend says:

      Such a shame about Seasons Kosher Supermarket. They always had a huge selection of Kosher for Passover goods, and (unlike neighboring places) never price-gouged. Passover is going to cost more for a lot of Upper West Siders this year.

      • Beverly says:

        Price gouging is the cost of keeping kosher, unfortunately. And, trying to “keep Passover” is an even higher expense, unfortunately. Seasons prices were actually a bit lower than its competitor on Bway, But, no comparison to Bway’s quality of food and nicer customer service.

        • UWSHebrew says:

          Breadberry in Williamsburg makes terrific food at fair prices and only charges $10 to deliver to the UWS. I recommend their cholent, all kugels and cucumber salad. It blows anything offered in Manhattan away.

    5. Spence says:

      “…(a platonic friend he met on JDate)…

      What does this have to do with the story?

      • UWSHebrew says:

        the reporter probably asked him if his business partner is his wife/girlfriend and he answered “no she’s a friend I met on Jdate”.

      • Tim says:

        Agreed, that was totally irrelevant to the story. If they had dated briefly, and had met on Match.com, should that have been in the article?? Too many writers try to spice up articles nowadays. Only relevant facts should be presented in true news outlets.

    6. Allison says:

      Maybe people wising up to the fact that just because it’s kosher doesn’t mean the meat was raised or killed in a more ethical way than not-kosher meat? Because it’s not.

      • Seth says:

        Kosher meat is supposed to slaughtered in a way the blood is removed from the animal once it’s killed. Animals killed in mass production have blood in the body of the animal after it’s dead, which is considered strangled. Animals in mass production are scared before getting killed releases hormones into the blood and their bodies which is not good for people to consume.

    7. Mark B says:

      Vino Laventino (W 94th, between Broadway & Amsterdam) has good kosher food, and great selection of wine.

    8. plurality@hotmail.com says:

      I know somebody in the food manufacturing business and this person’s description of what the koshering authorities demands are appalling. This person cannot believe the stranglehold the kosherers have on the food industry’s national brands especially considering how few people out of the 325,000,000 population care about kosher.

      • UWSHebrew says:

        If a national brand believes it is more profitable for them to have kosher certification, then they choose to pay for it. If not, then they don’t. No company is forced into it, it’s a simple business choice.

    9. SYDNEY FOX says:

      I think that the location of Amsterdam Burger is on Columbus Avenue near 93 Street.

    10. Sherman says:

      The big challenge facing kosher restaurants – at least very strictly kosher restaurants – is that they have to close early on Friday (and Friday nights are popular restaurant nights) and are closed most of the day Saturday (some kosher restaurants open after sunset on Saturday).

      Plus, they are closed on most Jewish holidays.

      Essentialy, the owners of kosher restaurants are paying rent for a substantial number of days in which their restaurants are closed.

      The generally higher costs of kosher food plus the cost of rabbinic supervision are of course a challenge but the biggest obstacle are all the days the restaurants are closed.

      • Granted — you’re undoubtedly correct, sir. And for those of us you are not only non-Kosher but non-Jewish, why patronize a restaurant that you can never know when it will ever be open?

    11. Myrna Coffino says:

      On the Upper East Side, the kosher Meat Shop has closed.

      Super Market Sections continue to carry Kosher foods.

      Myrna

    12. not UWS Hebrew says:

      I’m Jewish, and here’s why kosher food venues suffer: inconsiderate service / disorganized management / with restaurants, oftentimes a no-substitutions policy / exorbitant costs / an unfriendly vibe toward non-Orthodox customers. The result is that non-Jews/non-Orthodox people have no reason to frequent kosher food venues. They can get friendly service, reasonable policies and better prices everywhere else. Until kosher restaurants adjust their policies and attitude, their prices will only climb for lack of customers.

      • UWSHebrew says:

        great screen name. some of your points are valid opposite-me, but I find plenty of places that are not kosher that have an equal distribution of the criticism you have, especially the non-friendly service. anyone living in Manhattan can attest to that.

        • not UWS Hebrew says:

          Thanks about the screen name. I know to anticipate your comments. I just thank my lucky stars we aren’t talking politics today. Anyway, you say that just as many non-kosher venues have unfriendly service, high prices, & no-substitutions policies. Having eaten all over NYC for 15 years, both non-kosher (myself) & Hasidic-standard kosher (some of my family), I am basing my claims on my experiences. Ex: I ordered a cheese omelette in a kosher restaurant. What I received was a cold, square slice of cheese beside eggs in the shape of the omelette. When I asked why, they insisted that’s how they do it, and no, they can’t melt the cheese into the eggs. Not a big deal to me, fine, but considered along with the many similarly bizarre bad business I’ve encounter in kosher venues–coupled with the obvious stares from Orthodox customers and the extra cost heaped onto even the most ordinary of foods–I have no reason to patronize kosher places. Good points have been made here about the cost of certification & the days of business lost due to Jewish holidays. But there’s an additional factor, which is that these venues seem disinterested in attracting non-Orthodox customers. Even my Hasidic family members agree. I can’t think of another class of businesses that dismisses the majority of the populace. We may not share religious beliefs, but at the end of the day, money is money. If kosher places want to stay in business, they should start valuing profit and stop alienating a large slice of potential customers.

          • UWSHebrew says:

            “obvious stares from Orthodox customers”. you sound like you have a hang-up with Orthodox Jews. I’ve been to ethnic food joints where I got some stares for not being of that ethnicity, and it did not bother me in the least. I wear a baseball hat when I go to Hassidic Williamsburg, and not only do I get treated fine, sometimes, I get treated extra-friendly, I think because it is assumed I am not Jewish (I get that from time to time).

    13. Tom says:

      Can someone please explain what “kosher inspections” are and why so expensive ?

    14. Leon says:

      I have a friend who tried to run a kosher food business and said that dealing with the kashrut police was worse than dealing with the mob (I am Jewish, as is my friend).

      The Big Bang Burger location keeps changing its business model. That storefront is tiny and it would be very challenging to run a successful business of any size there with that rent, even if they weren’t paying the kosher premium.

    15. Iris says:

      There so right, it is the Miashgiach, the kosher food inspectors that truly can make or break any kosher establishment. I am kosher and truly they ‘ own ‘ your business and it is dreadful what they can charge . I believe there is no set fee and that is where the problem comes in. Faiawy and all the others use the same one ,
      he has the monoloply. This is truly a problem. It is unfornate to lose so many established good kosher places. These days if you don’t own your building your longevity ( Ie Fairway or Pionerr) it’s hard for a small business to last. We could use a good kosher bakery

      • UWSHebrew says:

        Iris if you want to venture out to Williamsburg (it’s not a bad trip with the Subway), check out Sanders Bakery there. It’s the best Jewish bakery I’ve ever been to (been open since 1959), and the baked goods are superb. The prices are so low you’ll be thinking they made a mistake when ringing you up. The apple strudel and water challas are unbelievable. Go on Thursday for best selection.

    16. Jane says:

      Neighbors need to get together and go en masse to Stop & Shop in Teaneck, NJ. They have everything and their prices are MUCH lower! Another alternative is to make your kitchen just dairy/pareve. You won’t have to deal with kosher meat. Silver Moon Bakery on Broadway at 105th has good challah. But seriously, if you have a car (and a place to park it) the NJ trip might be worth the gas and the bridge toll. Get things for others – it would be a mitzvah!

    17. blima abramson says:

      Chocolate Works had beautiful chocolate art, but it was not that tasty.

    18. Stuart Dubner says:

      Same situation on East Side. Mendys gone from 875 3rd Avenue Atrium , Soom Soom long gone from 56th and Lex and W72nd St and Broadway

    19. jack says:

      Good riddance

    20. jhminnyc says:

      I studied retailing in college. In my small business course it was stressed to us over and over that most small businesses fail within the first 2 years because of poor knowledge of the market before going into it, inadequate financing to cover the lean start up months and poor management skills in general. I would add to that, ownership that expects someone else to run the business for them. Any or all of the above spell closure sooner than later.

    21. Hubert R says:

      Every week all types stores close not only restaurants.
      Even W72 St has more empty storefronts. On Amsterdam Ave especially from W60th-W 75St(?may not have all streets affected.) These sections look like the south Bronx in the 1970’s. Affordable “diners” like Gigi’s,Tasty Cafe, etc
      Someone mentioned DiBlasio being to blame but there’s plenty of blame to go around!
      Former Mayor Bloomberg, gave many real estate developers waivers to build 50-60 story bldgs as his term was ended. Gov Cuomo, Helen Rosenthal & I presume other elected officials don’t care about locally
      owned businesses that have reasonable prices.
      Prices have risen on food; etc.
      In addition, Cuomo’s & the City Council’s “Zero Tolerance” re: Stopping 100% of pedestrian injuries/deaths “auto congestion” is a problem created by Gov Cuomo who fought the majority of NYC’s elected officials opposition to 1st adding 10K “Uber” cars & now
      over 100K cars…’caused’ congestion problem?!?” The “congestion pricing surcharges”to be paid by NYC residents & adding to private car svc profits & for “MTA” (including most bridges & tunnels & not merely subways
      /buses.
      The lower speed limits; narrowing many streets to1 lane;
      having to travel many blocks before being able to make a turn are adding to our costs!
      I strongly believe all these changes discriminate against the disabled who have to squeeze between gridlocked
      streets full of large trucks,etc. We’re confronted with one way streets which make it very difficult to get to most destinations.
      I just learned that all the “private car svcs: Uber,Lyft, etc. have raised their drivers’ minimum hourly pay at $17+!
      Meanwhile,NYC Yellow cab drivers struggle having more costs & are much more regulated re:Knowledge of streets & rules.
      Cuomo is merely concerned re: privatizing industries ie: take public land near NYC’s reservoir & give the rights to corporations which could contaminate the ground water
      while trying to trade public land further away.
      I wonder if all the new condo owners are American Citizens who I’m sure can afford expensive meals in high priced cafes, clothing stores,etc.