There’s a burgeoning kosher scene and it’s happening in the unlikeliest of places: downtown Newark. Last month a second certified-kosher restaurant opened on Halsey Street.
FalafaLafa, a Brooklyn-based chain under supervision of Tartikov Kashrus of Brooklyn, opened its first Jersey outpost at 85 Halsey St. The take-out restaurant, offering Middle Eastern cuisine with a “gourmet twist,” opened a block down the street from The Green Chicpea, also kosher which opened in 2013.
Owners of both restaurants told NJJN they were drawn to the student-saturated areas around Rutgers-Newark and New Jersey Institute of Technology.
“All the colleges and students who are in the area were the draw for us opening a Newark store,” said FalafaLafa owner Sumi Said. “We knew there was a group of students who needed and wanted healthy kosher food.”
Marty Weber of Fair Lawn owns The Green Chicpea with his wife Ramit. “People are wanting fresher and healthier food, and it’s good for everybody,” Marty said. “People are starting to take pride in Newark again.”
Said and his family also own FalafaLafa outlets in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Marine Park and Borough Park.
“With the way this area is coming back, we felt this was a perfect spot for our third store,” said Said. “Kosher is important to me and others here. I lived in Newark for three years and it was very tough to find kosher food.”
Chickpeas are the common denominator of the Halsey Street Koshers restaurants. Among their house specialties, both serve falafel — the time-honored Israeli staple — which are balls made of ground chickpeas with a mix of herbs and spices, fried, and served, often with vegetables and tahini (sesame sauce) in a pita. Another Middle Eastern treat on both menus is hummus — mashed chickpeas blended with garlic, salt, and other spices, that is “wiped” up with pita.
The Webers owned the successful House of Pita on 48th Street in Manhattan starting in 1997. They switched locations a couple of times before selling the business in 2009.
“We found success in Manhattan because people wanted to eat healthy food and get a taste of home,” said Weber who is originally from Los Angeles, his wife from Israel. “Then, we took a hiatus from the restaurant business, and I did some [real-estate] development work.”
In 2013, the couple was scouting locations for a new establishment, and, said Weber, “we came upon this spot, close to several colleges and, using Ramit’s vast cookbook, opened The Green ChicPea,” and, he said, “it has done well. The national brands of hummus like Sabra, Tribe, and others have exposed more and more people to this cuisine.”
Although the restaurant is kosher, under the supervision of the Vaad HaKashrus of Flatbush, it is marketed to all consumers.
“We want everyone to come and enjoy good, healthy food,” said Weber. “The restaurant filled a need for kosher food in Newark, but that wasn’t totally the purpose. We came to an area that has just fried chicken, pizza, and the like as options, and we thought our restaurant would fit well.”
The Green Chicpea, though it does a brisk takeout business, is more of a sit-down place, while FalafaLafa has less seating and caters more to the takeout crowd.
Another difference is their hours. For instance, The Green Chicpea, which is open 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Monday-Thursday and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday — it’s closed Saturday and Sunday — specializes in breakfast, lunch, and early dinner takeout. FalafaLafa has later hours, 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday; and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.
According to the business owners, there’s no competition and their relationship is “sababa,” all good.
“Our relationship with The Green Chicpea is good,” said Said. “We eat in each other’s places and enjoy each other’s food. We have different specialties we are good at.”
The Green Chicpea offers chicken dishes, while FalafaLafa is vegetarian. Shakshuka is one of FalafaLafa specialties, it is a dish made of poached eggs in a spicy tomato sauce.
The competition is of no issue to Marty Weber, either.
“Our relationship back and forth is very professional,” he said. “When you have different restaurants like ours, you basically bring more people to the street and more density to crowds. That’s good for all the restaurants, and more people are getting a positive impression on what we are doing in downtown Newark.”
Weber is also active in forming a nonprofit Halsey Street Merchants Association, which includes FalafaLafa.
“We’re putting together a merchants’ group to use the same vendors for many things we need, such as cleaning supplies,” Weber said. “You reduce your costs, and your profits go up. The vendor brings a truckload for several of us, then goes to another area. This reduces delivery costs as well and we all benefit.”
FalafaLafa is hoping to open a concession in the Prudential Center at the New Jersey Devils hockey games for the 2019-20 season, according to Said.
“We’ve talked to them about it, but it’s up to the Devils,” he said.
Many years ago — before the mass exodus of Newark’s fabled Jewish population in the ’60s — kosher bakeries, butchers, delis, and markets were plentiful in Newark. Now, as parts of Newark are filled with college students, attendees at sports events and cultural events, kosher fare has returned.
“We’re here for the duration and even more,” said Weber. “What we offer is fresh, tasty, healthy, and kosher as well if that is required. We’re glad to be here.”