Cait & Abby’s Bakery in South Orange, which has provided kosher baked goods since it opened in 1995, has dropped its kashrut certification effective May 28. In addition to its regular offerings of cakes, pies, breads, cookies, and cupcakes (containing the same ingredients they were previously made with), sandwiches and other items containing nonkosher meat — including bacon and ham — are now on the menu.
The decision to remove the kosher certification was made for financial reasons. “I’ve got to survive,” said owner Raul Saade, 57. “I just can’t do it with just the baked goods.” Current customers have been asking for meat sandwiches at lunch, Saade said, and he’s decided to take a chance.
The Jewish community is not providing the same traffic it once did, according to Saade, who said his business has been down by 40 percent in the last two years. Before that, he said, “Friday was our best day. We used to sell fresh cakes — seven-layer cakes, strudels, pies — like crazy. But in the last two to three years, it’s slowed down like you wouldn’t believe. Friday is like a regular day now.”
Similarly, the bakery has had a list of standing orders for challot on Fridays. But where the list used to hover at 35 customers, it is now down to six or seven, he said.
He took down his kosher supervision signs on Monday, May 28, when he started cooking meat in the ovens.
Some customers in the shop on Friday, June 1, on hearing of the impending change, were surprised.
Michelle Bayuk, a resident of South Orange and a member of Congregation Beth El in that town, stopped in mid-morning for some iced tea. “I was a little shocked,” she said, when she heard the news. Although she doesn’t keep a kosher kitchen, “When I am a guest in someone else’s home, I will revert back to [bringing] wine,” she said. “I know a lot of people who do like to shop here and buy things here because it was kosher and because it was close and they could walk.” She acknowledged that she does not typically buy challah on a weekly basis, but she does around the High Holy Days. And while the bacon doesn’t interest her —she doesn’t eat the meat of animals that cannot be kosher — the chicken parmigiana is something she might be interested in. “Time will tell,” she said.
“I’m indifferent,” said Keith Gargano, a regular who is not Jewish. Although aware that it was a kosher bakery, it wasn’t something he ever thought about, he said. Recognizing the impact on some customers, he added, “The world is changing as we speak, continuously. I’m OK with it.”
Jonathan Cobb of Maplewood, who said he never gets anything “but bakery stuff,” raised an eyebrow at the change. (Cait & Abby’s has long offered dairy sandwiches and quiche, as well as juices in addition to the baked goods.) “They do huge business during the holidays,” he said. “I can’t imagine there are that many people ordering meat that would compensate for the loss of their kosher bakery business.”
Saade remembered making the decision to be a kosher bakery shortly after he opened, when Rabbi Jehiel Orenstein of Beth El approached him. Orenstein died in 2013; Rabbi Mark Mallach of Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael in Springfield has more recently served in that capacity as its kashrut supervisor.
“It’s a loss,” said Mallach, who pointed out that area synagogues like his with kosher kitchens will have to go elsewhere now, and the options are limited.
They include Squirrel & The Bee in Short Hills, under the supervision of Rabbi Steven Bayar of Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn; Bovella’s Pastry Shoppe in Westfield and their other location on Route 22 in Mountainside, both under the supervision of Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg; and Delightful Cake Kreation in Springfield, under Mallach’s supervision.
Adding meat to the menu — and abandoning kosher status — is something Saade said proved successful in the Cait and Abby’s he operated in Short Hills from 2002 until he closed it in 2016. When the baked goods sales dropped, he added meat sandwiches for lunch and business picked up. He closed that location in 2016, he said, because he was getting “too old” to be “in two places at once.”
Mallach wished Saade well. “I only hope the revenue he generates selling meat sandwiches will cover the loss of revenue from area congregations buying the baked goods,” he said. “May everything go well with him.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that one of two Bovella's Pastry Shoppe bakeries was not kosher. In fact, both locations are under the supervision of Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg. NJJN regrets the error.