Detroit Gets a Kosher Restaurant That Attracts A Melting Pot of Customers
It’s lunchtime at Wayne State University, and student Charles Bryson is sitting at a table with three friends, chowing on slivers of pizza at Gold ‘n’ Greens, a campus restaurant.
“I love the pizza,” Bryson says.
But his pizza is not ordinary pizza. And Gold ʻnʼ Greens is not an ordinary restaurant. The pizzaʼs ingredients are special, produced under the supervision of a rabbi to meet Jewish dietary laws.
Thatʼs because Gold ʻnʼ Greens is a kosher restaurant. It's the only kosher restaurant in Detroit, and it is attracting a customer base at the melting pot that is WSU -- one that goes far beyond the relatively small number of Jews on campus.
Bryson, who is African American, doesnʼt care that Gold ʻnʼ Greens is kosher, though he adds: “I do prefer kosher food over non-kosher food. An extra blessing is always good.”
Three months into its maiden voyage, Gold ‘n’ Greens is breaking new ground.
It is a self-serve, cafeteria-style, all-you-can-eat, vegetarian restaurant at the Ghafari Residence Hall off Anthony Wayne Drive that's open to the public. As the city’s only kosher eatery, its nearest competitor is many miles way, in the northern suburbs that are home to most of Metro Detroit’s Jews.
Interestingly, Gold ‘n’ Greens, which has its own ground-floor entrance at the dorm, may have a greater chance of success than its counterparts in the suburbs because most customers -- like Bryson -- are not Jewish. Many are Hindus, Catholics, Protestants and Muslims, some of whom only eat halal. A number of them are vegetarians for various reasons, including religious.
Surviving 'The Curse'
“Hopefully with this broader client base, they’ll able to do a lot better, they’ll be able to survive, unless it gets the curse that seems to be visited on most kosher restaurants in the area,” says Wayne State law student Moshe Newman, an observant Jew who was eating lunch at Gold ‘n’ Greens the other day.
In metro Detroit, the opening of a kosher restaurant is a big deal for observant Jews, considering there are so few restaurant choices.
Over the years, some kosher dining spots -- particularly the pricey ones -- have opened in the Jewish suburbs of Oak Park, Southfield and West Bloomfield, only to go out of business after a year or two. In all, there are just over a half dozen kosher restaurants in the suburbs -- all very casual. Some are primarily carry-outs with a few tables.
Gold ‘n’ Green is under the supervision of the Council of Orthodox Rabbis in Southfield to assure it complies with kosher dietary rules, which include inspecting leafy vegetables to assure they’re bug-free. All ingredients must be certified kosher, including cheeses and breads.
Unlike Gold ‘n’ Greens, suburban counterparts rely heavily on customers who strictly observe the kosher dietary rules -- a rather finite population. Metro Detroit has about 67,000 Jews, about 10 percent of whom are orthodox.
Of those families, particularly those with many children -- dining out regularly basis is not an option.
Ruth Goodman, owner of Sara’s Glatt Kosher Deli and Restaurant in the Oak Park Jewish Community Center, says there are challenges to competing in the kosher restaurant business with the limited orthodox Jewish population. Goodman had worked for a while for Golden ‘n’ Greens in the mornings, cooking and making sure the restaurant complied with kosher law.
“Everybody is trying to get the same dollars,” she says, adding that kosher meat is more expensive. “If you don’t have to be kosher, why would you come here when they can go down the street and get a hamburger for $2 instead of one from me for $6?”
Patrons From Huntington Woods
Observant Jews like Shelley Jaffe of Huntington Woods have found Gold n’ Greens a welcome addition to what many often complain is a limited selection of kosher options, particularly compared to cities like New York and Toronto, which have much larger Jewish populations and greater selections.
“It was nice and clean and fresh, and it was real nice change,” said Jaffe, who went with her husband recently. “I’m looking forward to going back.”
The restaurant is operated by AVI Food Systems, the food service company on campus that also runs such outlets as Starbucks and Einstein Bagels.
The kosher restaurant came about as a result of different needs. For one, the Hillel House, an organization that serves Jewish students, had been serving kosher meals, but a little over a year ago the fire marshal said the exhaust system wasn’t up to code. Plus, Wayne State University was looking for something different, something to freshen up and update the dining hall at Ghafari Hall.
“Because of our diverse student population, there was a growing desire out there for vegetarian-vegan, more healthy sort of stuff,” says Susan Schmidt, resident director of AVI at Wayne. “We always knew there was some taste for vegetarian.”
Colorful and Comfy
Gold ‘n‘ Greens is far from fancy. It looks like a college dining hall, but a nice one. Wood tables are situated throughout the blue-carpeted room. The walls are blue and green. Off in a corner are comfy chairs and couches. Seating accommodates up to 180 customers.
Customers pay the cashier before entering the cafeteria, which has self-serve food stations. Breakfast is $5.50, lunch $6.60 and dinner $8, before tax. Customers can grab ready-made plates, serve up their own soup or salad or grab a piece of fresh pizza.
At one station, cook Jefferice Smith, who speaks proudly of her dishes, serves up gourmet veggie items with a four-star presentation. One day it’s black bean corn quesadillas, the next day a dish of spiced lentils, tzatziki and zucchini keftedes, polenta cakes with wild mushroom ragout or cornmeal dusted tofu with roasted pepper coulis.
“I think the place is fantastic,” says John Klein, an observant Jew and math professor who dines at the restaurant several times a week. “First of all, the food is very fresh. The menu is quite varied.”
The kosher menu also satisfies those who observe the Muslim dietary laws known as halal. Student Amani Al Balawi, a Saudi Arabian woman studying English at Wayne State, who is an observant Muslim, echoes similar sentiments of Professor Klein.
“I like because it has multiple choice.”
Gold ‘n’ Greens
* 695 Williams Mall, Detroit
*Hours:Breakfast, 8-9:30 a.m.; Lunch, noon-1:30 p.m.; Dinner 5-7 p.m. (No dinner on Fridays.)
*Cash and credit cards accepted.