Keeping It Real

Two restaurants cater to Minnesota's kosher community

Fishman's Kosher
Market and Deli

4100 Minnetonka Blvd.,
St. Louis Park

952.926.5611
www.fishmanskosher.com

Little Tel-Aviv
3238 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
612.929.1111
www.littletel-aviv.com

When he was a kid growing up in St. Louis Park, Stewart Fishman and his family would sometimes go out to eat at the old Boulevard Del. They served kosher-style food there: matzo ball soup, corned beef, bialys, knishes.

Serving "good food that's kosher, rather than kosher food that's good": Stewart Fishman
Kathy Easthagen
Serving "good food that's kosher, rather than kosher food that's good": Stewart Fishman

Location Info

Map

Fishman's Kosher Market And Deli

4100 Minnetonka Blvd.
Minneapolis, MN 55416

Category: Restaurant > Deli

Region: Golden Valley

Little Tel Aviv

3238 W. Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 55416

Category: Restaurant > Middle Eastern

Region: Golden Valley

Fishman loved the food at the Boulevard, and at other now-defunct local delicatessens like Bernie's and the Lincoln Del. It was Jewish comfort food--warm, reassuring, and ethnically correct--but none of it, save the pickles and the packaged dry goods sold in the markets, was certified kosher.

This didn't mean much to young Fishman. He was Jewish, but like most Minnesota Jews, he didn't grow up in a kosher household. Later, he went away to college in Boston, and his interest in observing the laws of Judaism grew. "When I was in college I started keeping kosher a little bit," Fishman recalls. "As the years passed, I got more and more committed to it."

In a big East Coast city like Boston, with its large Jewish population and seemingly unlimited number of kashrut-approved restaurants, bakeries, and markets, keeping kosher wasn't such a big deal. Later, Fishman moved to Madison to finish his engineering degree, and then back home to Minnesota. He and his family kept kosher at home, and practiced a "modified" version in restaurants.

"Like many people who keep kosher, I would go to a restaurant and eat vegetarian food," Fishman says. One of the basic principals of kosher is not mixing meat and dairy. The processing of kosher meat also needs to be overseen by a rabbi, so many kosher Jews eat only vegetarian food at restaurants.

"It was okay. It was what I was used to," Fishman says. "But I missed having places nearby where everything was kosher, where I could eat meat dishes, where I didn't have to scan the labels or investigate the recipes."

Then, in 1995, Fishman was laid off from his job as an electrical engineer, and a friend suggested that he get into the deli business. "To tell the truth, it wasn't my dream," Fishman laughs. "I've always loved food, but I never pictured myself in the food business. We had this neighborhood store, and the guy who owned it was running into a lot of competition from the big mega grocery stores. He had put in a small selection of kosher foods, and a lot of people in the neighborhood were shopping there."

But the store's owner was having health problems and planning to sell the business--or even shut it down. Fishman knew that losing such a resource would be a blow to the St. Louis Park neighborhood. He offered to buy the store. He just had to raise the money.

"I contacted area synagogues, collected addresses, and sent out letters to people we thought were kosher," he says. "I also called them. The idea was that they could help me with the down payment for the store if they gave me money, $500 or $1,000. I promised that I would pay them back with groceries over the years. The response was overwhelmingly positive."

So positive that Fishman collected $70,000, bought the store, and beefed up its kosher offerings. "The money came from the community at large--not just the orthodox community," he says. Fishman's Kosher opened in January 1995, offering a small selection of dry groceries, a deli, and a butcher shop. The spot quickly became a neighborhood favorite.

"We had a little deli counter," Fishman recalls. "But we didn't really have enough space. What people wanted was a place where they could shop and get something to eat."

In 2001, the store moved a few blocks down into the old Lincoln Del building on Minnetonka Boulevard. In addition to standbys, Fishman's now has an on-site bakery where they make sweets and challah. "Our challah is earning quite a reputation," Fishman says. "I've got people who drive 20 miles one way every Friday just to get a loaf or two."

Fishman's counter-service deli can seat up to 50, and in October 2001, he hired Culinary Institute of America-trained chef Ron Procenko, former executive chef at Murray's, to oversee his food service division. "Ron's not Jewish," Fishman says. "He came here because he wanted to learn something new. He wanted to be able to use his creative talents to adapt recipes to meet kosher standards."

One of Procenko's innovations was the kosher buffet, with themed offerings like Oriental, Italian, and Hanukkah, with sweet and sour meatballs, potato latkes, and zucchini gelt. "Our customers sometimes want a break from the regular deli fare," Fishman says. "We want to show people that there are many ways to prepare kosher foods."

Fishman's also caters bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, anniversaries, and funerals, but wants to emphasize that his customer base isn't limited to Minnesota's 45,000 Jews. "We don't cater just to kosher consumers," Fishman says. "Our marketing is largely geared towards the greater community. We serve good food that's kosher--rather than kosher food that's good."

Because the kosher community is still small--one study estimates that 2 percent of the Twin Cities Jewish community actively observes kosher food laws--Fishman is on a first-name basis with his best customers. When someone calls to find out if he has any pickled tongue, he replies, "I have raw tongue. I don't have pickled right now, but I can order a pickled one for you. It'd be here in a day or two."

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