Just a few weeks after announcing plans to add a food truck to the city's burgeoning kosher scene, the owner of Max & David's said financial woes drove him to close his flagship Elkins Park restaurant and catering business.
Since opening up five years ago, Steve Katz said, he often struggled to break even because of the higher costs of kosher products and frequent closures for Shabbat and other Jewish holidays.
"We tried everything," Katz said. "I don't care how good the food is, it's almost an impossible business model. Being closed 120 days of the year, it's too much."
When the restaurant closed April 5, the night before Passover began, customers didn't know that it would not be re-opening.
Katz said he broke the news to his staff of 12 the next morning, and an announcement circulated through a Jewish Elkins Park email list on April 11. Several of the cooks, dishwashers and servers transferred to similar jobs at the non-kosher West Ave Grille, which is owned by Katz's brother, Bob, and has locations in Jenkintown and Dresher.
Instead of continuing to essentially donate funds to keep the place open, Katz said, "I would rather give money to poor people who can't afford to eat."
"I will still be very, very active in the Jewish community but this will allow me to do it financially as well as physically."
Max & David's, which caters lunch for staff and students at the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, will continue to do so through the end of the school year, Katz said. Then, he said, he'll help the school find a new supplier.
Though the catering arm of the business will shut down, Katz said, other caterers will still be able to purchase their non-dairy gelato, which is produced at a commercial kitchen in Willow Grove.
At least for now, Katz said he has no intention of giving up the Max & David's Eagles' concession stand at Lincoln Financial Field or his plans for a glatt-kosher food truck, which could potentially appear at tailgates before professional baseball and basketball games.
The rest of the time, Katz said, he has arranged to station the truck on a private lot near Walnut and 34th Streets, between the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University. A thief who stole the truck's generator set them back, Katz said, but his son and a full-time food scientist/mashgiach are aiming to get the truck up and running by summertime.
As for the Elkins Park locale, Katz said he hopes to sell it as a turn-key operation to another restaurant.
"It was a great adventure and we're going to move on to the next one, wherever it is," he said.
(Anyone with an unused Max & David's gift card can ask for a refund by calling 215-517-4080, Ext. 210, or by emailing email@example.com .)
While Max & David's is no more, kosher diners may have another upscale restaurant to frequent with the forthcoming Citron and Rose in Merion, expected to open this summer under the creative direction of star-studded restaurateurs Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook and the financial backing of philanthropist David Magerman.
Katz said he's already called Magerman to wish him luck. The more kosher dining, the better, he said, especially if investors can keep them afloat.