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Kosher Food Is an Opportunity for Vegans

The kosher industry’s fruitful offerings for vegans aren’t limited to the grocery store. More and more kosher restaurants are offering vegan options, and in some cases, entire vegan menus.

Last year, when Liat Alon was opening Melrose Bite, a kosher cafe in Los Angeles, she kept plant-based diets in mind as she built her menu. While Melrose Bite is a dairy restaurant and, in accordance with Jewish law, can offer dairy and eggs, Alon ensured that nearly 90 percent of the menu could be veganized with milk, cheese, meat and egg substitutes. The menu offers an array of options, ranging from meatless chicken wraps to loaded breakfast burritos.

“It was important for me to have plenty of vegan options because I feel that we are more aware of our bodies and what we want to fuel it with,” Alon said. “I have three young kids and I have noticed how they eat, what they eat and the amount of hormones in food that can cause so much damage for their future… I try to serve everyone’s needs and to please everyone.”

Ken’s Diner, located in the Chicago suburb of Skokie, is considered a landmark meat restaurant by many kosher-keeping Jews. While the diner offered a plant-based burger for 25 years, owner Ken Hechtman was inspired by his vegan children to introduce a meat-free menu, offering vegan burgers, hot dogs, milkshakes, cheese fries, quesadillas, chili and more.

“I would suggest that we probably have added over 30 percent to our business. That’s insane. I would do things and bring new things into the restaurant and new ideas and get a 5 percent return, a 7 percent increase. We’ve been very graciously accepted by the Chicago vegan community.”

Hechtman soon built a separate vegan kitchen as well, inspired by the separation inherent in kosher dietary laws. The Chicago vegan community’s reception to the new menu and its separate cooking space over the last two years has been “insane,” according to Hechtman.

Ken’s Diner offers several flavors of vegan milkshakes, enjoyed by its omnivorous and vegan customers alike. Photo: Aaron Hechtman

“In the 44 years I’ve been there, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Hechtman said. “I would suggest that we probably have added over 30 percent to our business. That’s insane. I would do things and bring new things into the restaurant and new ideas and get a 5 percent return, a 7 percent increase. We’ve been very graciously accepted by the Chicago vegan community.”

Hechtman estimates that between three and 10 of his customers come especially for the diner’s vegan offerings, adding that until Burger King introduced Impossible meat substitutes into its restaurants, he was using the most Impossible meat in all of Chicago. “I was bringing in eight or 10 cases a week, whereas others were bringing in one or two,” Hechtman said. “That’s how quickly the vegan section in our restaurant grew.”

Kosher dietary laws helped Hechtman and his staff “understand the needs of vegans a little better,” according to Hechtman.

“[In a kosher kitchen] you can’t cross-contaminate,” Hechtman said. “Even if we didn’t build the kitchen and we did everything right, the perception is the actual reality. If people perceive that we don’t take it seriously enough, they’re not going to trust us. That’s why many of my customers don’t consider us a vegan option. They consider it a vegan restaurant, because we take it so seriously.”

Original author: Abby Seitz
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