Conversation with Joshua Katz, Ben Yehuda Cafe and Pizzeria, Silver Spring, MD

Joshua Katz, Ben Yehuda Cafe and Pizzeria, Silver Spring, MD, kosher, Jewish

Joshua lets us in on operating a kosher pizzeria

Ben Yehuda Café & Pizzeria   
Silver Spring, Maryland
Opened in 2000, Ben Yehuda’s is one of only a few Kosher-certified restaurants in the Washington, DC area.

To be kosher we follow the strict dietary laws outlined in the Bible. For example, the Bible forbids the consumption of meat and milk products at the same time, so we cannot use pizza staples, such as wings and pepperoni in our restaurant. All ingredients that we buy must have kosher certification from trusted sources, such as the Orthodox Union.

Being a kosher restaurant also means that we are closed for the Sabbath (sunset Friday until sunset Saturday) and for all Jewish holidays, about 70 days a year in total. This greatly increases our overhead costs!

The DC metro area has a large Jewish population. It is an excellent niche market that has a great need for kosher food. As a kosher-keeping observant Jew I personally understand the desire for Jews to have a quality kosher restaurant. Unfortunately, they are hard to find. It is a privilege serving this market segment. I also enjoy the challenge of working within the limitations of a kosher kitchen and being able to compete with the larger restaurants that don’t have such limitations. In 2010 WTOP radio listeners voted our pizza as being the best in DC!

Some ingredients are easy to find and some are harder. We are able to get most of our ingredients from major suppliers. Dairy products are more challenging so we have to buy from smaller suppliers. In some cases it means buying product in bulk and shipping it in from out of state, when we would prefer to order smaller quantities locally — similar to restaurants in more remote areas, except we are in walking distance to Washington, DC.

To ensure that kosher standards are being met we have a supervisor that checks every item coming into the restaurant to ensure that it meets the high kosher standards that we keep at the restaurant. We also receive weekly unannounced inspections (sometimes two or three times a week) from a local rabbinic organization that certifies our kosher status similar to what the Orthodox Union does, but on local scale.

Our daily customers are mostly Jewish families from Maryland and DC, as well as many families from our communities with many different backgrounds. We also have a lunch program for local schools and do a lot of catering business with Jewish organizations in MD, DC and Northern VA. Since there are a limited number of kosher restaurants in DC we do a lot of business with tourists. Jewish schools throughout the country come to DC for class trips, so we deliver to them near the White House and other popular tourist spots. This has helped us grow a brand that is well known in Jewish communities throughout the nation. We also cater the U.S. Senate’s annual Chanukkah party!

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