For the past few years, Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia has found help in an unlikely source: one of the city’s largest purveyors of treyf.
Since the onset of the pandemic, Frank Olivieri, owner of cheesesteak purveyor Pat’s King of Steaks, has teamed up with a Jewish chef for JFCS’s annual “Nourishing Community” fundraiser for their Food Security Initiative.
On Dec. 6, Olivieri and James Beard Award-nominated chef and HUDA owner Yehuda Sichel teamed up for the in-person and virtual event, where they cooked a Glatt-kosher meal together for the fundraiser. This is the second time the duo have partnered up for the event.
“Chefs and people in the restaurant and food and beverage world understand that we’re on the side of serving a luxury and that there are unfortunately people that are food insecure,” Sichel said.
Olivieri shares Sichel’s desire to give back to the community, and despite not sharing Sichel’s Jewish upbringing, Olivieri’s connection to community outreach has Jewish roots.
In 2019, Olivieri’s wife Nancy Schure, who is Jewish, began volunteering at JFCS.
“We have a lot of people who come to our [Barbara and Harvey] Brodsky Enrichment Center to volunteer and really help us with the community aspect of the work that we do,” said JFCS Chief Business and Resource Development Officer Pia Eisenberg. “Because everyone we serve, we feel should be part of a community and part of the larger community.”
According to Eisenberg, Schure was part of a cooking program at the Brodsky Enrichment Center teaching kitchen and came up with the idea to have Olivieri conduct a virtual Nourishing Community cooking demonstration during COVID.
Olivieri is also the founder of the Spread the Whiz Foundation, which has the goal to “inform and demonstrate healthy eating habits and nutrition in school aged children through artistic and cooking expressions,” according to the foundation’s website.
The first iteration of the Nourishing Community event with Olivieri had him working alongside CookNSolo chef Michael Solomonov. For the February event this year, Olivieri started his partnership with Sichel.
From two different religious and culinary backgrounds, Sichel and Olivieri had no problem finding common ground.
“Like all Italian families, like all Jewish families, at a meal, we’re sitting talking about our next meal,” Olivieri said. “That’s what we do. We love food. For us, food is the way that we show our love. Food is the way that we keep our traditions alive, which is important for both Roman Catholic Italian and Jewish folks.”
Jewish-Italian relations have existed in Oliveri’s family for decades. His great-uncle and restaurant namesake Pat was married to a Jewish woman whose ex-husband was a kosher butcher, and the couple had plenty of Jewish friends and family.
At the store’s original location, according to Olivieri, the Olivieris had two separate kitchens to keep up the appearance of a kosher or kosher-style establishment. When Jewish loved ones would come to patronize the place, Frank Olivieri’s grandfather and father would hide the cheese to keep the restaurant “kosher” for them, Olivieri said.
Olivieri’s commitment to serving food to Jewish Philadelphia as part of JFCS’ Nourishing Community is less superficial.
“We pride ourselves on giving back to the community in any way possible,” he said. “So it just seemed very natural to do this.”
Beyond cooking a three-course kosher meal for attendees of the event, Olivieri and Sichel’s demonstration was also a fundraiser for JFCS’ Food Security Initiative, which impacts Philadelphians beyond the Jewish community.
The initiative includes providing groceries to homebound JFCS clients; financial assistance and help in applying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamp, benefits; teaching kitchen programs; and the Our Closet In Your Neighborhood program, which distributes food, clothing and services to clients in need.
In addition to bringing funds to the organization, the Nourishing Community program helps bring awareness of JFCS’ work, which is rooted in the Jewish values of community, dignity and repairing the world.
Olivieri’s consistent participation in JFCS reinforces the organization’s mission of extending services to Philadelphians across all backgrounds.
“We want anyone in the community Jewish or not, to feel a part of JFCS,” Eisenberg said, “and to feel like they are supporting not just the Jewish community, but the entire community as well.”