Area Restaurants Seek Hechshers


After Ben & Jerry’s announced it would stop selling ice cream in Israel’s West Bank settlements, pro-Israel organizations such as Brooklyn-based Amariah demanded that the ice cream company’s hechsher, or kosher certification, be removed. Some Australian grocery stores, as well as Australia’s Kashrut Authority, have removed Ben & Jerry’s from lists of kosher items. 

Rabbi Yonah Gross | Courtesy of Yonah Gross

But this is not the same as removing the brand’s hechsher, the process of which is not so simple. Kof-K, the Teaneck, New Jersey-based organization that certifies Ben & Jerry’s, has a contract with the ice cream company’s Israeli distributor that doesn’t expire for another year-and-a-half. Though the organization’s hands are tied until then, it is working with Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s parent company, to pressure Ben & Jerry’s to reconsider its stance.

“We hope that we’ll get it reversed,” said Rabbi Yehuda Rosenbaum, a Kof-K administrator.

But while some are fervent about wanting the hechsher removed from Ben & Jerry’s, some Philadelphia establishments are just as eager to get their own kosher certification.

Jessica Boese, co-owner of Cherry Hill, New Jersey’s new location of Nothing Bundt Cakes, isn’t Jewish but wants her franchise bakery location to be kosher to accommodate Cherry Hill’s Jewish population.

“It’s relatively simple for the amount that it is appreciated by the community,” Boese said.

Because she, along with her husband and co-owner, Steve Boese, knew they wanted a kosher establishment before opening, they didn’t need to worry about buying new equipment or making new rules about staff bringing non-kosher food into the kitchen.

For franchises like Nothing Bundt Cakes or Insomnia Cookies, getting a hechsher is straightforward.

“They have standardized ingredients that are coming in: They’re bound by the rules of their franchise agreements to only use certain suppliers that are coming in, all with their own certifications on it,” said Rabbi Yonah Gross, an administrator for Keystone-K, the Philadelphia organization that supervises those area franchises.

One factor that complicates the process of getting a hechsher, according to Gross: serving meat.

Preparing meat at a kosher restaurant requires not only separation from dairy, but the constant supervision of a Jewish person to ensure the product is being appropriately handled. That can be a non-starter for many restaurants that are most profitable on Friday and Saturday, as, besides not being able to cook meat on Shabbat, they wouldn’t be able to hire a Shabbat-observant supervisor, either.

“I don’t think we’d be able to supervise a meat restaurant that’s open on Shabbos,” Gross said.

Dairy restaurants also often require continuous supervision, but there are still more kosher dairy than kosher meat restaurants in Center City.

Plant-based restaurants Bar Bombón, Charlie was a sinner. and several HipCityVeg locations around the city all received kosher certification from the International Kosher Council on July 27. Supervised by Rabbi Eliezer Hirsch of Mekor Habracha Center City Synagogue, these restaurants join the ranks of other vegan kosher restaurants in the area supervised by IKC, such as 20th Street Pizza and Goldie.

Bar Bombón, along with Charlie was a sinner. and some HipCityVeg locations, received their kosher certification on July 27. | Courtesy of Bar Bombon

“It really aligns with our mission to bring plant-based foods to people everywhere,” said Nicole Marquis, founder and CEO of Bar Bombón, Charlie was a sinner. and HipCityVeg. “Because we really believe it’s the single most important thing we can do to have a positive impact on our health, and, of course, on the environment.” Marquis hopes for her restaurants to become halal, further expanding her clientele. 

Like kosher establishments that serve dairy or meat, vegan restaurants also have to be vigilant when washing produce and checking them for bugs. Though they don’t require constant supervision, restaurants are still required to have administrators provide periodic checks to ensure their standards are being upheld.

Not all vegan restaurants are interested in becoming kosher, Gross said. Some restaurants source sauces with animal byproducts because customers requested them. That these restaurants still advertise themselves as vegan underscores the importance that a kosher certification has on guaranteeing transparency between restaurants and customers.

Gross said he has noticed a steady increase in restaurants in the Philadelphia area applying for certification. Marquis said that she has seen a growing demand for plant-based restaurants, and members of the Jewish community have asked for her restaurants to get certified.

Despite Marquis’ anecdotal evidence, there doesn’t appear to be a major push from Philadelphia-based restaurants to become certified. Even so, the establishments that are becoming kosher — largely chains and vegetarian and vegan restaurants — indicate the growing desire of restaurants to gain a more inclusive consumer base, as well as become more conscious of where they source their food.

Conversely, kosher restaurants may get the short end of the stick if clientele are mostly limited to the kosher-keeping community.

“For kosher restaurants to be able to gain market share from the non-kosher community, that’s a big challenge for them,” Gross said.

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