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St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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HJ’s Café reopens after four years with new menu, same community spirit


Four years after it shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, HJ’s Café at Covenant Place on the I.E. Millstone Jewish Community Campus has reopened.

The café, which is located adjacent to the Mirowitz Center in the Covenant Place II Cahn Family Building, will be open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The café is no longer kosher. Before it closed in March 2020, the café operated with a Vaad Hoeir-supervised kosher kitchen.

“Obviously it would have been wonderful if we could have retained our kosher kitchen. But between food costs going up so much and the added cost of maintaining a kosher kitchen, it just didn’t make sense (financially),” said Joan Denison, president and CEO of Covenant Place and the Mirowitz Center. “Michael (Layne, HJ’s operator) understands the Jewish community and the kind of food we are looking to serve and not serve. He’s also very sensitive to the pricing. He recognized that some people would be coming potentially on a daily basis and wants to provide good food that’s well priced.”

Layne, who has been in the restaurant business for 35 years, said he was interested in HJ’s because he is always looking for new challenges.

“I saw this beautiful picture on the internet of a circular counter in the background with an ad that said, ‘come rent this,’” said Layne. “I called and came to talk to Joan Denison, and we did a tasting. I cooked for her and some of her board. I made five different entrees and a couple of desserts, and everyone seemed to really like what I made.”

But that was several months ago, while the café was being rehabbed. It had sustained tremendous damage as a result of a sprinkler pipe break on the building’s third floor, which happened on Christmas Eve 2022, Denison explained.

“We had to gut the place and rebuild,” she said. “There were three floors of damages, including the café. We had to relocate residents and prioritized that work first because we wanted to get people back into their homes. Materials that we ordered were no longer available, so we had to reselect. It was a very long, arduous process. It almost feels like a miracle that the café is now reopened.”

Layne said while not kosher, customers will never find pork or shellfish on HJ’s menu. He said guests will find a healthy assortment of breakfast, lunch and dinner options as well as specialty coffee drinks, smoothies, desserts and pizzas. There is also a $5.50 kid’s menu with four entrée choices, including chicken strips and grilled cheese, that comes with a drink and cookie.

Breakfast, served from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m., features all the usual suspects – eggs, omelets, oatmeal, French toast, bagel and lox and more – with nothing priced higher than $11. A yogurt parfait, with blueberries, strawberries and granola, is $5.50, while a breakfast burrito, stuffed with scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, pepper, onions, potatoes and salsa, is $8.

Lunch selections boast several kinds of salads (ranging from $6-$8); seven different kinds of burgers, served either with fries or a side salad ($8-$10) and eight kinds of sandwiches, served with chips, potato salad or coleslaw ($11-$12).

Entrée items, served with a house salad and a side of pasta, broccoli or buttered potatoes, include grilled salmon ($16), meatloaf ($11) and roast beef ($13). Several pasta dishes ($11-$14) and a half-dozen or so appetizers ($6-$9), round out the offerings.

Denison explained that meal delivery has been set up so that people can call ahead or eventually order online and either pick up their food or have it delivered if they live in Covenant Place. HJ’s also is the caterer for the Aging Ahead subsidized senior meal program, which serves 80 older adults with five meals a week at no cost, though there is a suggested donation of $5 per meal.

For more information or to order, call 314-733-9812. HJ’s website is currently being revamped, but should be available soon at hjcafe.org.

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About the Contributor
ELLEN FUTTERMAN, Editor-in-Chief
A native of Westbury, New York, Ellen Futterman broke into the world of big city journalism as a general assignment reporter for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner in the latter part of the 20th century. Deciding that Tinsel Town was not exciting enough for her, she moved on to that hub of glamour and sophistication, Belleville, Ill., where she became a feature writer, columnist and food editor for the Belleville News-Democrat. A year later the St. Louis Post-Dispatch scooped her up, neither guessing at the full range of her talents, nor the extent of her shoe collection. She went on to work at the Post-Dispatch for 25 years, during which time she covered hard news, education, features, investigative projects, profiles, sports, entertainment, fashion, interiors, business, travel and movies. She won numerous major local and national awards for her reporting on "Women Who Kill" and on a four-part series about teen-age pregnancy, 'Children Having Children.'" Among her many jobs at the newspaper, Ellen was a columnist for three years, Arts and Entertainment Editor, Critic-at-large and Daily Features (Everyday) Editor. She invented two sections from scratch, one of which recently morphed from Get Out, begun in 1995, to GO. In January of 2009, Ellen joined the St. Louis Jewish Light as its editor, where she is responsible for overseeing editorial operations, including managing both staff members and freelancers. Under her tutelage, the Light has won 16 Rockower Awards — considered the Jewish Pulitzer’s — including two personally for Excellence in Commentary for her weekly News & Schmooze column. She also is the communications content editor for the Arts and Education Council of St. Louis. Ellen and her husband, Jeff Burkett, a middle school principal, live in Olivette and have three children. Ellen can be reached at 314-743-3669 or at [email protected].