Customers were milling around with shopping carts and perhaps handing in job applications on a recent afternoon at the newly opened House of Kosher in Northeast Philadelphia.
The gourmet supermarket at 9806 Bustleton Ave. was a long time coming, per Rivky Isaacson, who owns the store with her husband, Rabbi Shloime Isaacson of nearby Congregation Beth Solomon.
They thought they’d be open a year ago, she noted, but opening a new business comes with unforeseen challenges.
Now the doors are open — she said they are aiming for a larger grand opening celebration during the summer — and she hopes to provide a necessary service for the community with the market.
A Brooklyn native, she said markets there have everything all together. In Philadelphia, at supermarkets like ShopRite, there may be a kosher section but it doesn’t always have everything needed for a kosher household.
“There’s only so much space any supermarket is going to give you for kosher,” she noted. “They’re a big supermarket; it’s so nice they give us the section, but there’s no way they’re carrying every product, and we want every product.”
The store appears to be like any other market — perhaps cleaner — as there are stocked shelves of everything from cleaning supplies and paper products to frozen dinners. A deli section sits along the back wall along with a sushi station. An in-house butcher cuts fresh meats and the menu changes every day, including by offering Shabbat-ready meals on Thursdays.
They package their own housemade dips and olives and have their own dairy line.
There is also a produce section, a coffee bar and a slushie station.
Soon, other features like a brick oven for fresh kosher pizza and a section of kosher wines will join the lineup; they are working on obtaining a liquor license.
“It’s really one stop,” she said.
Employees in red sweatshirts and long-sleeve shirts walked around talking to customers and checking the aisles, the slogan “Experience the food, enjoy the tradition” emblazoned on the back.
“We’re still having your potato kugel and your kasha varnishkes and your nice roast beef deli sandwich, gefilte fish — everything we love — but in a new environment,” Isaacson explained.
There are unique lines of products available at the store, too, she noted, such as an exclusive gourmet cheesecake line — “You have to know someone to get it,” she said, promising the chocolate cheesecake miniatures are “like you’ve never tasted in your life” — and a variety of Israeli snacks and beauty products.
She is striving to make the shopping experience an easy one for customers and be able to fill their needs — even if it means satisfying a special request.
“It’s easy shopping. We try to check everybody out … quickly, helping everybody,” she said. “I always tell people, if you don’t see something just tell me. I’ll talk to the butcher — whatever you need done.”
There are still some changes coming, including decorating the walls and adding visual features in each section, like fishing nets to the seafood area or murals behind the coffee station.
She said they plan to hold events at the store and set up outdoor seating in the summertime.
“I can’t wait until the decor is done, and then I love when people tell me what products we’re missing and we quickly get it in,” she said.
Former Northeast Philadelphians Becky and Jeff Miller were in town from their new home in Sarasota, Fla., for their daughter’s wedding. The two, who still belong to Temple Sinai in Dresher, were making dinner for her that night with the Israeli salad, schnitzel and other goodies in their shopping cart.
“I think it’s fantastic, I do,” Becky Miller enthused of the store. “This is impressive.”
“We were just saying we wished we lived closer because we would absolutely shop here all the time,” Jeff Miller added. “Just to be able to get everything and not worrying about what’s kosher, everything is kosher. It’s fantastic.”
On Florida’s west coast, they noted, there aren’t any stores like House of Kosher, and instead they have to drive 40 minutes to find a kosher butcher.
Becky Miller was excited they were able to find cookies that were pareve, as that is difficult elsewhere.
“This is excellent, really excellent. And I’m not related to them,” she added. “This was a pleasant surprise and the prices are pretty good. They’re comparable to anything we’ve seen.”
Isaacson hopes the store will entice a Jewish and non-Jewish crowd to serve the needs of the whole community, as they carry “regular” foods as well such as name brand cereals, cookies and yogurts you would find in other markets.
There is a noticeable emphasis on it being a comfortable place for Jewish shoppers, though. There was Hebrew music playing in the background, and there are Israeli snacks and pickles lining the shelves.
“When it’s Chanukah, I want to know it’s my holiday. I don’t want to hear Christmas music, you know what I mean?” she said.
But with the addition of the dessert lines and other exclusive offerings, she wants the whole community to feel special.
“We want to pamper everybody here, it’s a gourmet market at the end of the day,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish, not Jewish, it’s just a nice market to be in.”
The store is the latest addition to services provided by Congregation Beth Solomon, which also functions as a community center and wholesale distributor Kosher Foods and More.
“This is another part of our outreach,” Isaacson said, “just really reaching out to the Jewish community and providing what they need.”
[email protected]; 215-832-0740