Winnipeg Kosher restaurants dwindle after two drop certification

Two Winnipeg restaurants have dropped their Kosher certification, leaving only three privately-owned Kosher establishments in operation.

BerMax Cafe and Bistro opened its doors four years ago and pulled its Kosher menu earlier this month.

BerMax Cafe and Bistro started as Kosher when it opened in 2014, but decided to pull its Kosher offerings a few weeks ago.

Desserts Plus on King Edward Avenue created a Kosher menu 18 months ago and withdrew from Kosher supervision on Nov. 1.

“There aren’t a lot of options in terms of Kosher meat options, and we thought it was important to provide that,” the owner of Desserts Plus, Lisa Reiss said.

Abiding by Kosher rules means being closed on Saturdays and on all Jewish holidays.

“Unfortunately, people weren’t showing up, it’s as simple as that.”

Desserts Plus (664 King Edward St.) withdrew their Kosher supervision citing a lack of community support.

Without Kosher food on the menu, the restaurant has developed a more diverse menu and they’ve also noticed more customers coming in on the weekends. However, no longer having to follow Kosher rules is something they are still getting used to.

“Non-Jewish and even Jewish people used to come in and they’d want chicken on their Greek salad. We couldn’t do that strictly because there’s that strict separation of meat and dairy,” Reiss continued.

As to why the demand for Kosher meals has drastically gone down, Winnipeg’s supervisor of Kosher production, Rabbi Yoseph Benarroch, said for years the local Jewish community has been straying away from religious standards.

“The less traditional Jews become, then the less demand there is for the traditional way of Jewish eating, which is Kosher.”

Benarroch’s family arrived in Winnipeg from Israel in 1963, and his father was the city’s main butcher of Kosher meat.

“At that time, there were 19 Kosher butcher shops in Winnipeg, mostly in the North End, and unfortunately, today there are none.”

Rabbi Yoseph Benarroch is the Rabbi of the Adas Yeshurun Herzlia.

While most regular Kosher customers understand the change, others are concerned about the dwindling amount of options.

Lisa Cohen is a regular Kosher customer, but she admits that keeping Kosher outside of the house is becoming more and more difficult.

“If you’re strictly adhering to the Kosher diet and there’s no restaurant available when you’re out, then our family would go into grocery stores and get a bag of potato chips that are Kosher to snack on.”

A look at Schmoozer’s Cafe (123 Doncaster St.) one of three remaining private Kosher establishments in Winnipeg.

Cohen said she is disappointed Kosher options are decreasing, but understands it from a business perspective.

“It’s so expensive for them to operate a Kosher business, but also when you are running a Kosher restaurant, you have lots of limitations in terms of when you can be open.”

There are now only three Kosher options for eating out in Winnipeg, but Cohen is hopeful things will get better.

“There needs to be entrepreneurs that can afford the cost. I know our Jewish community is smaller than some other big cities but I know there are people here in Winnipeg that would support those businesses.”

Schmoozer’s Cafe, the Gwen Sector Creative Living Centre, and the Simkin Centre are the only remaining Kosher establishments in Winnipeg.

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