Zagafen, Magerman’s New Restaurant, Opens in Merion Station

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a selection of different dishes from Zagafen
Some selections from the menu at Zagafen (Photo by Joanna Rottini)

Update (Sept. 13): A previous version of this article stated that David Magerman lives in Gladwyne. Magerman moved from Gladwyne to Merion in 2014.

David Magerman will be the first to tell you that he never saw himself as a restaurateur.

The businessman and philanthropist is interested in serving kosher food to the kosher diners of Bala Cynwyd only to the extent that it enables him to continue to support Jewish day schools, he said, with an emphasis on Kohelet Yeshiva High School.

His projects included Citron & Rose, now Citron & Rose Tavern and Market, and the Dairy Cafe. The former, after years of struggle, has finally begun to see a path toward profitability, according to Magerman, but the latter is kaput.

In its place is Magerman’s latest attempt to provide restaurant-quality kosher food on Montgomery Avenue: Zagafen, a dairy restaurant that opened at the end of the August.

The restaurant, which has both cholov stam and cholov Yisroel kitchens, serves Neapolitan pizza, a variety of homemade pastas, fish and a wide range of vegetables. And, for the first time, Magerman feels like he’s really nailed it, with the help of the Zavino Hospitality Group, responsible for restaurants like Tredici and Zavino.

“This is what they do for a living. This is their profession, and they’re really great at it,” Magerman said of ZHG, calling its co-founder, Greg Dodge, a “restaurant genius.”

Says Dodge: “Zagafen is the best restaurant I’ve ever opened.”

The relationship between Magerman and Zavino began when the original Citron & Rose was in its early stages. Dodge and his team at ZHG were partially responsible for that first iteration, but Dodge was gone from the operation soon after it opened. He felt that there were “too many opinions in the kitchen, if you know what I mean.”

A few years later, as Magerman became convinced that the Dairy Cafe was not going to succeed and that Citron & Rose needed to undergo serious changes, he decided to knock on Dodge’s door. Funny enough, Dodge happened to be his next-door neighbor in Gladwyne at the time. Magerman proposed that Dodge and ZHG remake Citron & Rose in their image, and help replace the Dairy Cafe with something new. Dodge happily obliged, partially out of respect for Magerman.

“David’s passion for his community, and what he’s done with these restaurants, I believe he’s probably a one-of-a-kind, not just in this area, but maybe globally,” Dodge said.

In the last two years, Dodge said, Citron & Rose was rescued from a moribund slog, and refashioned into the sort of place that does, say, 150 covers on a Sunday. Two years ago, it was a struggle to get 15, Dodge said.

With Zagafen, Magerman and Dodge kept the larger project in mind — to provide an attractive social setting for kashrut­-minded families, from the Main Line mainstays to those who moved there to be close to Kohelet. This go-round, however, they added a few wrinkles that have, thus far, resulted in successful evenings for the restaurant.

The one that has sparked the most conversation is the decision to operate two kitchens: one certified as cholov stam, and another certified as cholov Yisroel. For some, the cholov stam designation does not quite cover their standards of kashrut; for that reason, Magerman decided that a second kitchen serving similar food would allow for groups with mixed distinctions of kashrut to all go out to Zagafen. The cholov stam and cholov Yisroel meals are cooked in different kitchens, served with different plates and different silverware and then whisked back to their respective kitchens to be cleaned.

Logistically speaking, “it’s actually not difficult” to make sure the dishes and silverware are kept totally separate, Magerman said. “For better or worse, I can afford it.” Zagafen will employ an extra mashgiach, or kosher supervisor.

As of now, the cholov stam menu dwarfs its counterpart; Magerman is aware of the discrepancy, and said that the ZHG team did not yet feel that they could put out a high- quality selection at an appropriate price point for cholov Yisroel food.

But both Magerman and Dodge are pleased with the menu. Dodge noted an abundance of families, and especially people with strollers, coming through Zagafen. “That’s a terrific sign for us,” he said.

And for Magerman, who wants to prove that kosher restaurants can be a profitable venture on the Main Line, Zagafen feels like the first of these projects that is truly “his.” Zagafen, he said, feels like the first restaurant he ever opened.

In the meantime, both he and Dodge think you should try the spaghetti squash.

[email protected]; 215-832-0740

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