Last Kosher Eatery on LES Shuts Doors

The closing of Noah's Ark in the Lower East Side means the last of the kosher eateries in the historically Jewish neighborhood. The Jewish Week asks: Does this mean the end of an era? (Photo by Michael Dat via The Jewish Week)

The closing of Noah’s Ark on the Lower East Side means the last of kosher eateries in the historically Jewish neighborhood. A Jewish Week article asks: Does this mean the end of an era? (Photo by Michael Dat via The Jewish Week)

A few weeks ago, The Lo-Down reported that Noah’s Ark on the Lower East Side had been served a notice of eviction. After a decade of operation, the deli’s recent closure would mean the end of the last full-service kosher restaurant in the neighborhood. The historically immigrant Jewish area used to see thriving kosher eateries but as demographics and times change, so does local demand. This led The Jewish Week‘s Ted Merwin to ask: Does the closing of Noah’s Ark mark “the end of an era on the Lower East Side?”

Yes, believes Laurie Tobias Cohen, the executive director of the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy and an observant Jew. While kosher eateries continue to prosper elsewhere in the metro area, they don’t necessarily fit in the neighborhood, despite a lingering Orthodox population.

She sees kosher dining options blossoming on the Upper West Side, in Riverdale and in Teaneck, N.J. — but not on the Lower East Side, where she said an older, more traditionally Orthodox community resides.

“Notions of eating out on a daily basis are very American,” Cohen pointed out. “People down here don’t have it in their Jewish DNA to spend money in restaurants.”

Rabbi Josh Yuter, the head of the local Stanton Street Shul, clarifies that as their roots were planted long before gentrification transformed the neighborhood, the older Orthodox residents remain in the area despite the lack of wealth their newer neighbors might possess.

Other kosher restaurants exist there but, as Merwin notes, “they are not supervised by any nationally recognized kosher certification agency.”

Without Noah’s Ark, Rabbi Yuter said, the neighborhood no longer has “authentically Jewish cuisine that was authentically kosher too.”

Nonetheless, Zvi David Romm, rabbi at Bialystoker Synagogue just around the corner from the deli, assures that kosher food is still in ample supply in the neighborhood.

Rabbi Romm estimated that about 300 kosher-observant families remain in the neighborhood, and noted that many kosher options remain in the neighborhood — everything from bagels and bialys to pickles and pizza. The Lower East Side, he concluded, “remains a mecca for kosher and non-kosher tourists of all types.”

A resident of the Seward Park Cooperative, from whom Noah’s Ark deli rented its space, said that the deli restaurant had been on the downturn for years, suggesting that the close wasn’t a surprise.

“It was no secret that the place was not full,” he said, “and that the prices were rising and the quality going down. The owners were trying to save a sinking ship.”

While the deli had a good deal on rent — $5,500 a month — it could not sell enough sandwiches, even at close to $20 apiece, to keep the place afloat. Efforts by the co-op to find another business to take over the space were unavailing.

The deli’s flagship restaurant in Teaneck, N.J., owned by the same couple that owns the Lower East Side location, Noam and Shelly Sokolow, is, on the other hand, doing well.

Professor Jeffrey Gurock of Yeshiva University and the “leading expert on the history of Orthodox Jews in America” doesn’t have faith in another kosher eatery making it in the Manhattan neighborhood, but only because nowadays, goods are within reach regardless of location.

“The Orthodox Jewish clientele used to go down to the Lower East Side for the sights, sounds and smells of the old neighborhood,” he said. “Now they can have it right in their own backyard — wherever they live in New York.”

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