Keeping It Real

Two restaurants cater to Minnesota's kosher community

Fishman believes that this kind of personal service will be what continues to set him apart from the big stores, which seem of late to be taking an interest in the kosher community. Last month, for instance, Byerly's St. Louis Park store opened an all-kosher department with kashrut-approved meat, bakery, and dry goods.

Since Minnesota's kosher offerings are so limited, Fishman hasn't encountered much competition in the 11 years he's been in business, but he's taking this latest development in stride.

"I believe in capitalism," he says. "But I also know the independent store plays an important role in our society. If we do a good job, we will stay in business. People like a hamish environment, and we've got that in spades."

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

 

Before Israeli-bornTeddy Nachmias opened Little Tel-Aviv, the restaurant was called Calypso. Calypso was kosher, too, Nachmias explains, but the food and the atmosphere were completely different.

Nachmias wants to make that distinction clear, because he and his family put much time and effort into creating a restaurant that reminded him of home.

"The old restaurant that was here was good, but now I'm serving Israeli food exactly like you'd have it in Israel," he explains. "That's the way they make it there and that's the way I do it here. That's what sets me apart. We want customers to know that at Little Tel-Aviv they have an opportunity to taste the flavors of Israel."

Nachmias moved to Minnesota 13 years ago. He's kept kosher his whole life, and though he loves the state, he says he's always been disappointed by the fact that there are so few kosher offerings here. He'd spent his working life in clothing management, but three years ago, when he learned that Calypso's owners wanted out of the restaurant business, he approached them.

"I asked myself, 'What if I were to open an Israeli restaurant?'" Nachmias recalls. "I'd like to find a place where I could get good falafel. I'm sure other people would, too. Now we have the best falafel in town."

Authenticity is important to Nachmias, because since coming to America, he says, he's eaten too much food that tries to pass itself off as authentically Middle Eastern but really isn't.

"Not that long ago, I went to a Moroccan restaurant in Milwaukee and I ordered the hummus," Nachmias says. "They brought it out to me and it wasn't right at all. There was no lemon. It was bland. It tasted funny. I called the owner over and said, 'What kind of hummus is this?' and the guy said, 'This is the kind we serve to the Americans. If you want the real kind, you have to ask for it.' I don't want my restaurant to be like that. I want to serve only the real kind of food."

Unlike Fishman's Kosher, Little Tel-Aviv serves only fish and vegetarian food. The menu is large, with breakfast, lunch, and dinner selections. There are many Israeli classics, including hummus sandwiches, falafel, and mirit (a grilled sandwich with whipped butter, Israeli cheese, and tomatoes).

A house favorite, Nachmias insists, is the Israeli-style walleye. "I love that it combines my old home and my new home," he says. "Sometimes customers will ask me, 'So they have walleye in Israel?' I say, 'No, it's Israeli style.' But I love walleye. I think it's a wonderful fish."

While some might see the small size of the Twin Cities' kosher community as a handicap, Nachmias sees it as an opportunity to build a loyal customer base. "I keep kosher, and I understand how important it is for the community to have kosher restaurants," Nachmias says. "There are so many reasons. If you want to celebrate an anniversary, a birthday, cater a wedding, you want to celebrate in a nice place. We're giving people that nice place to celebrate in."

Nachmias also believes that corporate Minnesota needed more kosher restaurants for business meetings and events. "Minnesota has so many businesses," he says. "Nationally, there are many businesspeople who keep kosher, people who work at Best Buy, Target, you name it. A few years ago they had nowhere to go and hold a business meeting. Now they can come here and eat anything on the menu."

Little Tel-Aviv is open Sunday through Friday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Nachmias works in the restaurant every day, and his oldest daughter (he has seven children) works there, too. Right now, business is so good that Nachmias is considering opening a second restaurant.

Still, he knows that he'll have to weigh his business decisions carefully. He points out that L'chaim, St. Paul's last remaining kosher grocery, closed just this month.

"There are already two kosher restaurants in Minneapolis," he says. "There are only so many Jews here. In New York you have millions of Jews, so it is not hard to open another restaurant. So you have to think twice if you want to open a kosher restaurant. You have to create a place that appeals to everybody, not just the kosher community. If another kosher restaurant opens, I could close. But I guess I'm a gambling man. I think there's room enough here for everybody."

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
All
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...