Pearl Cohen Kasoff, kosher frozen food pioneer

Pearl Cohen Kasoff, kosher frozen food pioneer

Pearl Cohen Kasoff at her 80th birthday party
Pearl Cohen Kasoff at her 80th birthday party

Pearl Cohen Kasoff, a former Newark resident who launched a kosher frozen hors d’oeuvres empire, has died at 101.

Cohen Kasoff, who started her business with a single storefront on Newark’s Hawthorne Avenue, died June 22 in West Orange, where she resided.

Born as Pearl Fishman in Seattle in 1908, she lived in Newark and Elizabeth before moving to West Orange in 2003.

Kasoff, the founder and owner of Cohen’s Famous Knishes in Newark, opened the first U.S. government-inspected plant for kosher frozen foods, and expanded her store to other locations, including Irvington, Livingston, and West Orange. According to the Lakewood-based Cuisine Innovations, which now manufactures frozen food products sold under the Cohen’s label, by 1983 Cohen’s Famous was a major food company with distribution in supermarkets around the country.

The brand was sold in 1997 and the restaurants were closed long before that after the family’s focus shifted to national distribution. “They concentrated on the frozen food aspect” and manufacturing, said daughter-in-law Barbara Cohen, who also credits Pearl with patenting the potato dog, a hot dog deep fried in a potato knish skin.

“Three thousand calories and boy, was it good,” said Barbara Cohen, whose husband, Edward, worked closely with his mother and brother Sidney developing the business.

As a young wife and mother Cohen Kasoff opened up a small knish store on Hawthorne Avenue in Newark, preparing the delicacies from her own recipes, granddaughter Gail Grossman told NJ Jewish News. “It was because of her dedication, perseverance, and spirit that her company became a nationwide name and she a national icon,” she said.

“She allowed people to have faith in her,” said Barbara Cohen. “Whoever had contact with her knew that she was an honest woman.” Cohen, who worked as a waitress at the family’s Irvington restaurant, also recalled her mother-in-law hand-rolling knishes into her 50s and riding on the back of a motorcycle in her 70s.

Another of Cohen Kasoff’s nine grandchildren, Cindy Cohen Zolchonock, noted that her grandmother foresaw the importance of the company’s obtaining kosher status. “It was all gut instinct,” said Cindy, whose father, Sidney Cohen, worked with his mother for over 45 years. “How pioneering she was in the day.”

“My grandmother had a phenomenal life,” she added. “Not many women could have a resume even close to her.”

“She never took ‘no’ for an answer,” Grossman said of her grandmother. “She should be an inspiration to all women.”

She received recognition for her contributions to the industry, including a nomination in 1960 as “Small Businessman of the Year” by the Small Business Administration in Newark, and a letter of congratulations on her 80th birthday from Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

Cohen Kasoff was also a member of the Deborah chapter of West Orange, B’nai B’rith Women of West Orange, and the Sara Slifer Organization. “The most important memory that one would remember about Pearl was that she was truly a very giving and loving person who always wanted to better any situation,” Grossman said.

Predeceased by her three husbands, David Kasoff, Saul Cohen, and Lou Daitch, she is survived by her daughter, Jean Grossman of Manalapan; two sons, Sidney Cohen of Monmouth Beach and Edward Cohen of Chester; nine grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren.

Services were held June 25 with arrangements by Menorah Chapels at Millburn, Union.

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