Restaurant trade defies recession

By James Martin, March 5, 2009

Kosher diners are not being put off their food by the recession.

Twenty kosher licence inquiries have been received by kashrut authorities in London and Manchester over the past few months.

This week, Kedassia-supervised Golders Green Indian restaurant Mattancherry reopened under new management.

There have been two recent kosher additions in Manchester and new restaurants are set to open after Pesach in Hendon and Borehamwood.

At the Federation of Synagogues, Simon Hirsch reported “no evidence of a decline in applications for licences on new premises. In fact we’ve had four in the past few weeks which is higher than usual.

“That’s not to say that all the proprietors putting in applications will go ahead and open a restaurant. But they contact us because if we agree to grant a licence, they then have to assess the feasibility of paying our shomrim [inspectors]. This can cost £500 a month, as well as a certification fee, depending on the level of supervision required.” The soon to open Kanteen in Brent Cross will be under Federation supervision.

David Steinhof of the Sephardi Beth Din said the authority had received “four applications over the past six months. At the moment, the recession hasn’t deterred proprietors from starting restaurants”.

London Beth Din kashrut director Rabbi Jeremy Conway reported “quite a few inquiries recently — five in the past few months”.

He added: “Some are from businesses looking to maximise their economic assets. For example, if you have made a success of one restaurant it can make sense to pour money and resources into another.”

A Manchester Beth Din spokesman pointed to the recent opening of the Rimonim restaurant and Café Sheli — “and there’s a third establishment that is looking to get approval after Pesach.

“The economic situation is a concern but there’s an overall buoyancy in the Manchesher kosher restaurant market.

“It’s catering firms that may suffer. People are either going downmarket or for ‘kosher-style’.”

At Café Sheli in Broughton Park, which opened three months ago, Levi Cohen said it was filling a gap in the market.

“As long as prices are reasonable I think people will happily dine at a kosher restaurant — particularly milky restaurants, which can be cheaper than meaty ones.”

In London, Isaac Cohen is bringing 30 years’ hotel and catering industry experience to the relaunch of Mattancherry after an eight-month closure. “The Jewish community responds to warmth,” he said, “and we will treat all customers like family. They will enjoy eating here.”

However, Avi Avital, who owns eight restaurants including the Orli chain, believes the market has reached saturation point and that some restaurants will struggle to survive.

“People still want to visit restaurants but it’s not like before,” he observed. “They will only go for expensive meals to mark a special occasion. Customers are cutting down on wine and courses.

“You can throw in special offers but I think that’s not enough. If you don’t have a brand reputation, you’re unlikely to win new business at this time.

“I predict that people will go out of business.”

An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that the soon to open Kanteen in Brent Cross had applied to the Sephardi Beth Din for supervision. The application was in fact to the Federation.

Last updated: 4:38pm, March 20 2009