By Lisa Kava
Upper West Side roommates, Jonah Rosen and Eli Nussbaum, both in their 20s, recently launched an initiative called “On Mondays We Eat Local.” Their goal was to organize a group of participants to order dinner from a designated local kosher restaurant each Monday. The two young professionals had been looking for a way to help neighborhood restaurants, which continue to suffer due to the pandemic.
The idea for “On Mondays We Eat Local” came during the snowstorm in December, when Rosen ordered takeout from one of his favorite Upper West Side kosher restaurants. It was a cold messy night, and Rosen arrived at the restaurant to find it dark and empty, with the owner sitting quietly alone inside. “That image really highlighted for me what a terrible hand the restaurants have been dealt through no fault of their own,” said Rosen. “I felt frustrated with the lack of help that restaurants and small businesses have received. I wanted to step in and help.”
Around the same time, Rosen read a column written by Frank Bruni, which moved him. Bruni spoke of restaurants as a meaningful part of New York City life and emphasized that many will not be able to survive as a result of the limitations brought on by the pandemic. Rather than simply accepting that fate, Rosen said he was inspired to be part of a solution. “These are more than just restaurants. They have history. Chefs, waiters and other workers rely on them for employment.”
Rosen spoke with Nussbaum about his concerns and the two roommates brainstormed, trying to figure out how to make a difference. Together they came up with the idea for “On Mondays We Eat Local.”
Rosen, a 2017 college graduate who works in the airline industry, has lived on the Upper West Side since 2018. Nussbaum, who works as a physician’s assistant, graduated from college in 2016. The two are part of a listserv (an electronic mailing list) for the young, Modern Orthodox community on the Upper West Side, comprised of professionals between the ages of 22-30. Utilizing this listserv for initial outreach, the team has since developed a new email list of 150 Upper West Siders who wish to participate. They have also created a FB page.
Rosen and Nussbaum pick one Upper West Side kosher restaurant to promote each Monday night. Members of the group, who are notified of the designated restaurant by email and through the Facebook page, then order dinner (either takeout or delivery) from the featured restaurant. Each restaurant includes a token of appreciation, such as a free dessert, along with dinner that night. The schedule rotates so that each restaurant will be featured more than once.
Featured restaurants so far have included New Amsterdam Burger Bar, Talia’s Steakhouse, and Kasbah Grill. On deck is Arba Modern Bread and Bagel. Rosen and Nussbaum are also in discussions with a number of additional restaurants.
So far, the project has been a success and restaurant owners are appreciative.
“This is a much welcome and needed venture,” exclaimed Ephraim Nagar, owner of Talia’s Steakhouse on Amsterdam Ave at 93rd Street, who said his dinner orders increased by 50% the night his restaurant was featured. This enabled him to hire back two former employees for the evening to help package the food. Nagar gave each customer a free homemade chocolate mousse.
“It has been a very challenging time,” said Nagar, noting that in addition to indoor dining, he previously held live jazz events as well as Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations at Talia’s. “None of that has been possible since March.” Like many Upper West Side restaurants, Nagar says he set up an outdoor tent with two sides open, heat lamps, and arranged tables six feet apart. “I am doing what I can do, but it is still tough,” said Nagar. “Jonah has really begun to raise awareness of what we restaurants have been going through.”
While Rosen acknowledges that “we are not saving these restaurants by ordering from them on one night,” his hope is that the project will remind the community of the plight of restaurants, and inspire people to take small steps to help out.