Ella Kushnir of Manalapan bit into a freshly made falafel ball and said, “I was born in Haifa, and many people say that the best falafel in the world comes from Haifa.
“But this is better.”
She didn’t have to travel far to find it: Donny’s Mediterranean Gourmet Food & Deli, a new glatt kosher restaurant located in the Summerton Plaza shopping center on Route 9 South in Manalapan, opened in March.
It is the third kosher restaurant to be located in that same shopping center — a rare trifecta in central New Jersey.
Kosher Chinese Express has been there about 20 years, and Capri Kosher Italian Cuisine — under new ownership since last October — is the successor to Levy’s, a dairy restaurant.
With seating for just 18, Donny’s is as much a takeout establishment as a dine-in. The owner, Donny Kaszovitz, took a long and non-intuitive path to get to his current position as a restaurateur.
“I was born in Ashkelon, Israel, in 1951 and grew up in Raanana. But my father was born in Pennsylvania and was an American citizen. He had made aliya in 1949. So, when I decided to come to the United States in 1974, I had an automatic green card,” said Kaszovitz.
He enrolled in Hunter College, where he majored in English and pre-med. Although he had come to the States with the intention of studying veterinary medicine and was accepted by the University of Pennsylvania, he realized he couldn’t afford the four-year program and turned his hand to making a living.
“I drove a cab for a year, then got together with a partner and bought my first coin-operated laundry,” Kaszovitz recalled. “We built that up to 10 locations, and we even set up an institutional laundry.”
In the mid-1980s, while still running the commercial laundry, Kaszovitz shifted his focus to bringing nurses trained overseas to work in the American healthcare industry. “There was a surplus of openings and too few people available to fill them domestically,” he said.
Around 2010, he said, that business became far more difficult. Immigration authorities imposed more restrictions, and nurses were asked for higher academic qualifications than previously required.
Kaszovitz stepped away, but soon realized he was too young to retire. “I decided to follow my passion — cooking,” he told NJJN.
Having lived in Marlboro since 1984, he recognized an opportunity for a glatt kosher restaurant that catered to Middle Eastern/Israeli tastes.
Today, the deli menu features Mediterranean selections as well as traditional Eastern European cooking, including Hungarian-style goulash and schnitzel, which Kaszovitz personally prepares, using recipes he learned from his mother, a Holocaust survivor.
“I hired a professional chef for the Mediterranean specialties, which include not just falafel, but shawarma, hummus, tahini, baba ganoush, various kabobs, Moroccan cigars, Turkish salad, and more,” Kaszovitz said.
Word is spreading steadily about the new restaurant. During the hour this reporter was at the store, a family of three came in — Yaakov and Beatrice Marmar, who were born in Israel, and their 21-year-old daughter Shelly. As they ate — appreciatively — they also took cell phone pictures and transmitted the images to family members.
Within minutes, Ella Kushnir, the falafel fan, was buying dinner for her family.
Moments later, Igal Marmar, Yaakov’s brother, came in. After sampling three or four items, and placing an order, he told NJJN, “We’ve been dying for this kind of food. It’s something we’ve needed in this area for a long time.”