Photo credit: Envato
The kosher restaurant scene around the globe has exploded over the past 20 years with a plethora of kosher restaurants in cities around the world. However, not all kosher restaurants open during the holiday of Passover. There were a large number of restaurants that opened for Chol Hamoed Pesach in 2019 but COVID shut things down for 2020 and very few opened in 2021. There are more restaurants opening for Pesach this year but not back at the numbers that we saw before COVID.
We spoke to a number of restaurant mavens in Israel and the U.S. to get the scoop on the Pesach restaurant scene. Meet our experts:
Elan Kornblum, aka “The Restaurant Guy”, founder of the Great Kosher Restaurant Foodies (GKRF) website, Facebook group, popular Instagram page and monthly newsletter. Elan reports on the kosher restaurant scene all year long as well as his annual list of restaurants opening for Pesach 2022.
Dani Klein, founder of YeahThatsKosher (YTK), keeps on top of the kosher restaurant scene and broadcasts to his many followers on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. Klein’s annual Pesach restaurant list is YTK’s most popular article of the year.
Debbie Lampert is the founder of eLuna, an English language kosher restaurant website in Israel. Debbie has watched the kosher restaurant business in Israel evolve over the years. She sends out a weekly newsletter and annual Pesach restaurants in Israel list.
Photo credit: Envato
Characteristics of the Pesach Restaurant Scene
It is not a simple process for a restaurant to attain kosher certification, let alone kosher for Pesach certification. There are many additional rules and regulations and the restaurant has to close for a few days in order to kasher their kitchen so they can open for Pesach. Many restaurants choose to be open up until right before Pesach when many people eat out because they are busy cleaning and cooking at home and don’t want any chametz brought into the house. It can often be beneficial for restaurants to stay open the week leading up to Pesach and then take a vacation on Pesach itself.
Typically, businesses that can rely on volume of traffic, whilst charging higher than normal prices, are the ones that stay open over the holiday. Sometimes that includes restaurants being open on the Chag itself with prepaid meals (numerous of these options in South Florida) in addition to Chol Hamoed, allowing these restaurants to maximize the number of diners they can seat over the 8 day holiday.-Dani Klein
Debbie Lampert from eLuna was surprised that many of her restaurants in Israel decided not to open this year. She “thought that there would be more restaurants open for Pesach, especially since there is almost an entire week of Chol Hamoed this year.” It doesn’t seem to matter how Chol Hamoed falls out, as one restaurant owner told Debbie “we don’t want to work on Chag.”
Lampert noted that “Either the restaurant has a system for turning over for Pesach or they don’t.” Everyone needs a vacation and restaurant owners are no exception and some restaurants take the week as an opportunity to make improvements and repairs.
Still feeling the effects of COVID
Our experts agreed that COVID changed the Pesach restaurant scene, with fewer restaurants opening for Pesach this year.
There are not as many restaurants opening for Pesach this year as there were before COVID for a number of reasons. The main reasons being the chicken shortage that is affecting everyone for Pesach, from wholesale to retail. Another issue is staffing, it’s difficult to get people to work on Pesach, as we mentioned earlier, people want to take a vacation.-Elan Kornblum
Klein noted that “The number of Pesach restaurants before COVID was increasing annually to almost 500 Pesach restaurants with post-COVID numbers hovering around 150. This year in particular may be an anomaly with food costs spiking due to the global squeeze on resources, shipping, and the war in Ukraine.”
Lampert, commenting on the Pesach restaurants in Israel, “Last year there were not so many restaurants open for Pesach and while there are more opening this year, it’s still not back at pre-COVID numbers.” People are definitely looking for restaurants open during Chol Hamoed based on the number of inquiries Debbie is getting asking for when her list will be published.
Why Pesach restaurants in Israel are unique
Israel is unique when it comes to food on Pesach in many ways. Between residents and tourists, Israel has the greatest demand for Pesach restaurants. Israel also has more days of Chol Hamoed, in other words, more possible days for people to eat out and for restaurants to make money.
There is also the issue of kitniyot. Most Israelis eat kitniyot, whereas most tourists and Ashkenazim do not. Many restaurants in Jerusalem used to be kitniyot free in order to cater to the tourist industry.
A large portion of restaurants are with kitniyot. There has been an evolution in the kitniyot issue, with people being more flexible about eating kitniyot and restaurants being unapologetic about serving kitniyot on Pesach.-Debbie Lampert
Dani Klein noted that “Israel is different than other countries as the holiday is shorter, Chol Hamoed is longer, kashrut is better prepared to handle the Pesach turnover, and a larger percentage of the population eats Kitniyot, easing the menu changes for many of the eateries. Israel has the most robust pesach restaurant scene, although Ashkenazi diners should beware that about half of these restaurants do serve Kitniyot, something which is much less prevalent outside of Israel.”
Photo credit: Envato
Pesach Restaurants in the United States and Europe
As mentioned above, there are fewer restaurants opening this year than in pre-COVID times. Kornblum noted that the restaurants that have always opened for Pesach are still opening. There are some in NYC but not much in Brooklyn, Queens or Long Island.
Kornblum reports that Florida is a hotspot this year, with Pesach programs there selling out early and many tourists heading down for the holiday. “There are more Pesach restaurants in Florida than usual because unlike other states, Florida was not affected by COVID and staff shortages.”
Dani Klein agreed with Kornblum’s assessment. Restaurants in the US are mostly saturated around tourism, so places like South Florida and Manhattan, are generally where kosher diners will have the most options.
Klein comments that outside of Israel and the United States, “ Europe generally has very few restaurants open for Pesach outside of a handful that stay open in Paris, London, and a couple other cities.”
While there are fewer Pesach restaurants than before COVID, it is possible to find restaurants for dining out on Chol Hamoed. The larger the Jewish community and the more tourists the city sees, translates into more options for dining out on Pesach. All our experts agree that Israel, Florida and NYC will have the most options for dining out. Eating out at a restaurant is always more expensive than during the year and expect prices to be even higher than usual due to increased prices and shortages in different areas. Klein recommends that “diners plan ahead, make reservations whenever possible, be patient, and treat hospitality staff with respect. Set your expectations that prices will be high and service may be slower than usual.”