Survey offers data on local kosher dining preferences

Long lines of customers formed at Pratzel’s in 2011 after word spread that the longtime kosher bakery would close after nearly a century of serving the area.

By Eric Berger, Staff Writer

St. Louis Jews want to eat at a kosher Mediterranean or Israeli-style restaurant in University City, according to a new survey published by Chabad of Greater St. Louis. 

That location and style of restaurant is the sort that garnered the most interest among about 1,100 Jews who responded to a survey conducted in 2015. 

The goal of the survey was to provide an entrepreneur who might be interested in opening a kosher eatery in St. Louis with a collection of information about the local market. 

“The objective was to help any entrepreneurs who are thinking of creating a kosher eatery, and in order to have the best chance of success, we thought the entrepreneur could benefit from this data and go into this restaurant with their eyes open,” said Rabbi Yosef Landa, regional director of Chabad of Greater St. Louis.

When asked about kosher restaurants, 45 percent of people said they were “very interested in regularly eating at” a Mediterranean/ Israeli style restaurant, followed by Chinese (41 percent), pizza (38 percent), and a steakhouse or deli (31 percent). 

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Forty-two percent of respondents described themselves as Orthodox, while 30 percent were Conservative and 16 percent were Reform. The largest number of respondents (39 percent) lived in University City. 

The qualities that respondents care about most were that the restaurant has a clean, comfortable atmosphere (66 percent); that it fits within budget (48 percent); and the type of cuisine (35 percent). 

St. Louis has only two kosher restaurants: Kohn’s Kosher Meat & Deli, which is open daily for lunch in Creve Coeur; and Gokul, an Indian vegetarian restaurant in University City. But at night, there are no kosher meat or dairy restaurants.

Other kosher restaurants have been unsuccessful over the past couple of decades, including Empire Steak Building, which was open from 2001 to 2004, and Shmeers Café, a vegetarian restaurant that lasted from 2004 to 2007. Both were in University City.

David Benkof, a writer who identifies as Orthodox, paid more than $25,000 for studies to collect data on the local market for such a restaurant. He declined to comment for this story. 

“I am not interested in going into a kosher food business,” Benkof said when the survey was being conducted. “This is a tzedakah project on my part.”

The survey results will serve as a good “navigation tool,” for people considering opening a kosher restaurant in St. Louis, said Rabbi Zvi Zuravin, executive director of the Vaad Hoeir of St. Louis, which oversees kosher restaurants. 

He said he has not heard of any plans for opening a new local kosher eatery, but he is optimistic.

“I’m hoping that someone will open a kosher restaurant because we need more variety and competition is very healthy,” said Zuravin. “I think that with proper management and if it’s done the right way, there is definitely a chance of a successful restaurant sustaining itself.”