Like many people, Gary Rothschild often picks up breakfast from a coffee shop or café on his way to work.
In his case, his office is in B’nai Shalom, the Conservative synagogue in West Orange where he serves as executive director, and the spot where he gets his morning nosh is right there in the shul.
Open since May 23, Café B’nai was Rothschild’s idea. He saw the opening of the kosher eatery as a way to capitalize on space to generate income. “Every synagogue needs to find a source of revenue; the dues never cover the budget,” he said. “And we have a really beautiful building we are trying to make use of.”
That effort is designed to reach beyond the synagogue’s members. “We’re trying to make our meeting space more appealing for groups unaffiliated with B’nai Shalom,” Rothschild said.
The plan seems to be working. Eleven groups already rent space in the synagogue for regular meetings. They include an Alcoholics Anonymous chapter, a Boy Scout troop, a yoga class, and a support group for paraplegics.
Rothschild thinks the new venture will draw even more individuals and organizations to the facility.
Café B’nai sits in the synagogue’s former youth lounge, a 30-square-foot space that wasn’t being used, adjacent to the dairy kitchen. It opens to an interior garden, where seating will also be available in addition to the six tables already set up.
The café is run by the synagogue’s in-house caterer, Eli Gold, and his company, E. Gold Events Inc., based in Monsey, N.Y.
Gold designed the menu and makes all the food himself (no frozen or prepackaged goods allowed). It features such basic fare as bagels, pizza, sandwiches, salads — including quinoa, Greek, and Caesar — snacks, coffee, and some breakfast selections. He keeps the prices reasonable — a tuna sandwich with lettuce and tomato and a medium latte costs about $10 — and he offers regular and flavored coffees (but if you like your coffee strong, better start with a double shot).
Café B’nai is open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Gold plans to expand the hours beginning in July, when he’ll start at 7 a.m. in an effort to capture commuters since the synagogue is scheduled to be a stop on the morning West Orange jitney that will shuttle riders to a nearby NJ Transit train station. In the coming weeks he also plans to be open one evening a week for dinner. There’s no signage or advertising, so customers have to know the café is there to find it.
Although cafés and restaurants are located in synagogue buildings that are no longer in use, especially in Europe, B’nai Shalom appears to be alone in operating such a cafe alongside active congregational life.
On a recent Monday around noon, Sol Pearlman, an event entertainer from Staten Island who has an office in the building, was on site cleaning up after a bar mitzvah celebration over the weekend. He stopped in at Café B’nai for lunch and expressed his delight. “I’m Orthodox, so to have a kosher pizzeria right here…,” he sighed, a smile on his face as he folded his slice and took a bite. “The food is good and the prices are reasonable.”
The café is under the kosher certification of Rabbi Zushe Yosef Blech of Monsey.