One of the community's best-known day school philanthropists plans to open an upscale glatt kosher restaurant and catering company in Merion this summer with two star-studded chefs as his creative consultants.
"I never wanted to be in the restaurant business," confessed David Magerman, a computer programmer from Gladwyne who formed the Kohelet Foundation, which has funneled about $15 million over the past few years into tuition incentives, staff, educational programs and capital improvements supporting the region's day schools.
"The problem is, there's no place to eat."
At least, no upscale places for the more observant on his side of town.
The forthcoming Citron and Rose is expected to open in the space previously occupied by Shalom Catering at 368-370 Montgomery Avenue under the direction of award-winning restaurateurs Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook.
The lease also includes a former tile store next door, which will allow seating for about 60 people plus a marble bar.
Magerman said he purposefully left the details of the venture to the two chefs, in their first kosher enterprise.
The European Jewish-inspired menu will focus on foods people are comfortable with, but that don't have an "accurate presence" in the current culinary world, said Solomonov, a 2011 James Beard Award winner and owner of Zahav in Society Hill.
In addition to meats grilled over a charcoal rotisserie, Solomonov said, they'll offer a selection of smoked and cured charcuterie, pickled vegetables, salads, homemade breads and desserts. The kitchen will be overseen by Zahav chef Yehuda Sichel, who grew up in an observant home in Elkins Park.
"This isn't just opening a restaurant for the sake of being kosher," Solomonov said. This is a deliberate, new spin on old-world cuisine. "Nobody else has done it — at least the way that we're going to do it."
Since he and Cook both grew up eating these foods, "we're obviously putting our heart and soul into it," Solomonov said. "Jewish cooking is intimate when you're Jewish."
To start with, the restaurant will only serve dinner Sunday through Thursday, closing on Friday and Saturday in observance of Shabbat. If things go well, Solomonov said, they might expand to lunch. The catering arm of the restaurant will be available for off-site events.
Aside from Max & David's in Elkins Park, Palace Royal Restaurant in the Northeast, and Cherry Grill in Cherry Hill, N.J., previous attempts to sustain a kosher fine-dining establishment in the area have never lasted long.
This won't suffer the same fate, Magerman said, because "the community has matured a bit since then."
"It's not that people don't want to eat at kosher restaurants; the restaurants that were here just weren't that good," said Magerman.
"Really, I'm just trying to make it happen. No one else is stepping up to do it, so I figured I would do it."