Jerusalem cocktail bar drops kosher certification to expand customer base

When the new Brown Jerusalem boutique hotel opened in December, it also launched Ruhan, a kosher brasserie cocktail bar in the hotel lobby that served Redefine fish, pasta and meat made from herbs made in Israel – all under kosher certification from the religious organization Tzohar.

Just four months later, the restaurant in central Jerusalem has decided to serve real meat, as well as butter sauces and creams, giving up its kosher certification. Kosher dietary laws prohibit the consumption of meat and milk together.

“We wanted to be successful, but we didn’t see it work with a kosher restaurant,” said Liran Alayoff, group manager of OTH, which is Brown Hotels’ restaurants, bars, clubs and events business. “Sometimes you’re able to get both types of customers, and sometimes you get none.”

The Brown Hotel chain, which will have more than 50 hotels in Israel, Greece and Europe by the end of 2022, has Tzohar certification at some of its kosher restaurants, while others have gained the most widely certified accepted by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

He sought to experience this last opening of Jerusalem.

Although there are three other Brown hotels in Jerusalem – Villa Brown, Villa Brown Moshava and Brown Machane Yehuda – Ruhan was the group’s first full restaurant in Jerusalem.

He chose to work with Tzohar, which launched its own kosher certification agency in 2018 in a bid to break the grip of the chief rabbinate and gradually expanded its reach into food establishments in Israel.

Redefine meat-stuffed cabbage at Brown Jerusalem’s Hotel Ruhan, where the vegan meat substitute has created wider options for a kosher menu, April 2022 (Courtesy Anatoly Michaelo)

Ruhan hired Orel Kimchi, a well-known chef from the Popina restaurant in Neve Tzedek in Tel Aviv, who created a savory menu of dishes such as pumpkin carpaccio sprinkled with parmesan cheese, savory bread pudding with fresh cream and cabbage stuffed with Redefine meat served with kohlrabi cream and almond chimichurri.

“It’s great material,” Kimchi said, speaking about Redefine Meat a few weeks ago to Ruhan. “I have no problem creating a kosher menu. These are the ingredients and you work with them.

Ruhan’s menu was considered exciting for kosher diners in Jerusalem, with unusual offerings and an excellent Israeli wine list, as well as inspired cocktails featuring locally made spirits. Guests included tourists and locals, some clearly observant Jews and some not, in the boutique hotel’s intimate first-floor space.

The exterior of the Brown Jerusalem Hotel which opened its Ruhan kosher restaurant in December 2021, deciding a few months later to lose its kosher certification in order to attract a different clientele (Courtesy Karin Perez)

But the number of customers who came was not enough, Alayoff said. Neither does the Tzohar certification.

“We were on the seam,” he said. “We didn’t offer kosher certification with the Jerusalem rabbinate and we didn’t serve real meat. So the kosher customers would call us and say, “Ah, you’re Tzohar, that’s not kosher enough for us; and the non-kosher diners said, “What, no meat?”

Ruhan won’t be outright trif, insisted Shahaf Segal, who handles public relations for the Brown Hotel Group, based on the fact that it will not serve seafood or pork. But the kitchen will mix meat and milk, making it completely non-kosher.

Strictly kosher hotels in Israel must have separate kitchens for meat and dairy, and kosher restaurants serve either meat or dairy, but not both.

Kosher food establishments must close on the Sabbath, and Ruhan can now remain open on Friday evenings and Saturdays – another benefit of not being kosher.

Being kosher felt like a liability, Segal said, even in Jerusalem with its large observant population.

“We’re used to places in Tel Aviv where you open and the crowd is excited, they show up right away,” she said. “Jerusalem is different. It takes time.”

Bacon cheese sticks from Zuni, a non-kosher Jerusalem bistro that has built its business on its non-kosher comfort food and Sabbath hours (Courtesy of Zuni Instagram)

Jerusalem is different, agreed Anat Kirsh, longtime owner of Zuni, a non-kosher bistro in the nearby cobblestone neighborhood of Nahalat Shiva.

Kirsh and her ex-husband opened Zuni 16 years ago in what was a dilapidated former carpentry workshop, bringing a taste of their hometown of Tel Aviv to the capital with a 24/7 bistro 7 which serves breakfast and brunch as well as lunch, dinner and drinks. , Every day of the week.

They later brought Zuni’s famous French toast and the spirit of Tel Aviv to New York’s Upper West Side.

The couple later separated and Kirsh returned to Israel with her children, continuing to run Zuni Jerusalem and commuting from Tel Aviv almost daily.

Anat Kirsh, owner of Zuni, at the front door of the Nahalat Shiva bistro in Jerusalem, which serves non-kosher comfort food seven days a week. (Courtesy Anat Kirsh)

“With the people of Jerusalem, you have to be patient,” Kirsh said, recalling the long, empty nights in Zuni’s first year in business. “It’s very hard here. The people of Jerusalem are wary of new places. But once you have them, they are yours forever.

Zuni has remained open during the coronavirus shutdowns, with its kitchen staff making home deliveries. Customers would often call, telling Kirsh to swipe their credit card or place “unnecessary” orders because they wanted her to survive.

Zuni survived, although the gastro pub is no longer open all night and Kirsh has had more difficulty finding good servers – a persistent problem for restaurateurs during the pandemic.

Yet his Jerusalem establishment will never become a kosher restaurant, Kirsh said; some of his favorites are BLTs, bacon shakshuka and mussels. That said, she is convinced that every non-kosher restaurant in Jerusalem has a plan B for going kosher.

“The question is,” Kirsh said, “when do you need to use this plan B?”

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