Over the last few months, as COVID worsened and restrictions tightened, my staff and I have had to figure out how to navigate the situation to fill the needs and holiday favorites of the Jewish community despite decreased production, slowed transportation, distributors working remotely with reduced staff, and difficulty acquiring imported goods.
It isn’t simple to fulfill the needs of all the various minhagim (traditions) and stripes of the Atlanta Jewish community. There are those who hold by Cholov Yisroel, Yoshon, Pat Yisrael, and various forms of Shechita, and they all have their requirements that need to be filled.
In Judaism, food is more than just food. Food is ritual, food is spiritual, food is obligatory.
At Passover, it is the seder; at Rosh Hashanah it is the simanim (symbols) and special foods for a sweet new year. This year, getting those items is a challenge unlike any other year.
We’ve been on the phone negotiating with vendors, contacting suppliers from around the country, to make sure the Atlanta Jewish community won’t run out of kosher food, and will have everything that’s needed for the upcoming holiday.
With an eye on Sept. 18, Rosh Hashanah eve, we’ve been calculating, counting backwards to when inventory must hit the Kosher Gourmet floors. Freezers have already been cleared out to make room for product coming in earlier than usual to ensure supply for the anticipated demand.
In light of the current situation, slaughterhouses have cut back production, transportation is slow, and suppliers are having to increase their prices in an attempt to keep up with the adjusted safety precautions.
Around the country and especially in the Northeast, restaurants are closed, virtually all catered events are cancelled, and hotels are empty. Consequently, both kosher and treif (non-kosher market) production lines are reduced, orders delayed, and some products discontinued.
All this leads to difficulty in acquiring kosher goods and comes with increased prices that get passed down to the consumer.
Many families have found life financially challenging in the last few months, struggling to keep up with living costs, decreased work and increased food prices.
In these difficult times, the obligation to feed families in need is strong, and a wonderful summer food program was created by Georgia Nutrition Services, catered by Kosher Gourmet and distributed by Congregation Beth Jacob, providing 29,350 catered meals to Jewish children from all over metro Atlanta.
With the high holidays coming up, whether celebrating alone or together, the rules of the game have changed in the catering world and it is a new way of doing business. All orders must be individually packaged, with careful sanitary measures implemented. Gone are the 600-person events, the grand wedding banquets, the large corporate conventions. We have devolved into a world of separation, of distancing, with nuclear family-size gatherings only. This has also resulted in a huge paradigm shift for store operations. With smaller gatherings and social distancing, the volume in small call-in or emailed orders has increased, personal staff shopping for customers and curbside service is now offered. These changes have resulted in a reorganization of the store’s operations, including staff responsibilities, production schedules, and checkout procedures, as examples of a few adaptions to the new retailing reality.
As the creators of Seder-In-A-Box, Shabbat-In-A-Box, and Dinner-In-A-Box, this year Kosher Gourmet is producing a catered Rosh-Hashanah-In-A-Box to ensure that, in a time when families can’t spend Rosh Hashanah together, no one will be stuck without traditional food for the holiday.
We are doing what we can to sustain the community and maintain as close to “normal” as we can. Despite the challenging times, as Jews we must know we’ve got each other’s backs, and that the community always has somewhere to turn.
One thing has not changed. When you leave the Kosher Gourmet, you can always count on me to say, “As they say in the South, ‘y ’all come back now, ya hear?’”
Steve Gilmer is the owner of Kosher Gourmet, kosher store and catering company.