The Chain-ing Of Kosher Food


subwayStewart Ain of The Jewish Week reports: As he stood in line to get a steak and “cheese” Subway sandwich, David Farin, an Orthodox Jew, was beside himself with excitement.  “It’s phenomenal,” he said. “I’ve been coming every day since it opened. A kosher Subway!  Steak and cheese subs! It’s amazing. Where else does a Jew get to eat steak and cheese? And it’s good!” (The cheese is made of soy.)

Farin arrived at the Subway during his lunch break last week, about 10 days after the eatery had officially opened here in the Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Community Center.

Subway, with 32,000 shops worldwide, is the second largest fast-food chain in the world. And while the vast majority  of its franchises are, of course, not kosher, the franchise – which began opening kosher franchises just three years ago with a store in Cleveland – has quickly become the largest kosher chain in the U.S.

The North Miami Beach franchise is the 11th kosher Subway to open in the U.S., with three in the New York area: in Flatbush, Kew Gardens Hills and Cedarhurst, L.I. Two kosher Subways have already closed (one in lower Manhattan and one in Livingston, N.J.), but with two slated to open this year and another five next year, the grand total will soon be 16.

According to an article in Kashrut News, an online information source for kosher consumers, Subway franchises are fairly simple to make kosher because they receive pre-cut deli slices, eliminating the need for kashering in-store meat-slicing equipment. And in the 2009 Zagat Fast-Food Survey, the chain was rated the No. 1 overall provider of “healthy options.”

But are all these kosher subs a good thing?

“It’s marvelous,” said Steve Bayme, national director of Contemporary Jewish Life at the American Jewish Committee. “It makes it easier for Jews to travel – making kosher food accessible. This is a boon to the kosher Jewish community and is very positive.”

He added that Subway’s apparent success with kosher eateries represents a “penetration of the kosher food culture into the fabric of American society.”

Kosher food has become big business, with almost half of U.S. grocery items – including iconic American junk food products like Coke and Oreos – prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary laws.

And, while it has the most extensive full-meal menu, Subway is not the only chain with kosher franchises: Dunkin’ Donuts has 33 kosher franchises, primarily in the New York area, but they don’t serve complete meals, only dairy breakfast sandwiches.

But, if kashrut is supposed to make Jews more mindful of food and set them apart from other people, is there not something a bit odd about an observant Jew grabbing kosher Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast and later lunching on a kosher steak-and-“cheese” sub?

And what might such a trend mean for locally owned kosher mom-and-pop restaurants or kosher spots, serving distinctively Jewish food?

Already, Jewish delicatessens, both kosher and non-kosher, are a dying breed, as is documented in a new book “Save the Deli,” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by journalist David Sax.

Sax recently railed against Subway on his blog, claiming its pastrami and smoked meats are poor quality and calling the chain “one of the companies that has done more to drive the Jewish deli out of business than most others.”

Laura Frankel, a prominent kosher chef who runs a kosher restaurant at Chicago’s Spertus Institute for Jewish Studies, has also blogged critically about Subway and other kosher fast food chains.

“Why should I be happy and even celebratory over another fast food chain that opened kosher outposts?” she wrote in a post that appeared on the Jew and the Carrot, a blog devoted to “Jews, Food and Contemporary Issues.”

“The food just isn’t good, period,” Frankel wrote. “These fast food restaurants are all about everything that is bad in American pop culture.”

Indeed, at the same time kosher Subways are proliferating and many consumers are celebrating the growing availability of mass-produced kosher food, a growing counterculture of Jews, influenced by books like Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” are seeking locally-produced food, as well as kosher meat raised ethically on small, rather than industrial, farms.

In addition to KOL Foods, a fast-growing Maryland-based company specializing in pasture-raised, organic meat, a number of smaller efforts and kosher meat-buying cooperatives are in their early stages. And 32 Jewish community-supported agriculture groups – partnerships between Jewish institutions and local farms – have been launched in the past five years.

Will other restaurant chains follow Subway’s lead? According to Rabbi David Kraemer, the author of “Jewish Eating and Identity Through the Ages” and a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, that remains to be seen.

“If there is an increasing number of consumers who demand kosher food, then others will respond because they could make money from it,” he said. “A supply will develop to meet demand. … A good entrepreneur will recognize a good market, and kosher food is a good market.”

Menachem Lubinsky, President of Lubicom Marketing Consulting and editor of, is skeptical.

“In the ’90s Nathan’s had plans to open six or eight [kosher] stores,” he recalled. “It opened one in Brooklyn that is now out of business; only the one in Los Angeles exists today. They tried to spoon-feed a menu to consumers who were used to bigger menus and quality that was superior. One thing in the restaurant business is that the consumer is unforgiving.”

Several years ago McDonald’s “made noises” about opening a kosher eatery in the U.S. but never did, Lubinsky said. Like McDonald’s, Burger King has kosher branches in Israel but there is no indication it might replicate them here, he said.

Maurice Lichy, co-owner of the kosher Subway in North Miami, said the reaction since he opened his Subway franchise here has been “tremendous.” He pointed out that his store is located between heavily Jewish Aventura and North Miami Beach.

“Aventura is 90 percent Jewish,” he said. “There is no church in the community.”

The North Miami Beach Subway is not the only one located in a JCC. Cleveland’s Mandel JCC is home to the first kosher Subway in America, and the JCC of Greater Washington also has a kosher Subway. Ironically, both are operated by a Lebanese Christian. Ghazi Faddoul.

Les Winograd, a Subway spokesman in Milford, Conn., said he believes the JCCs are “a great match” for Subway shops.

“The JCCs ensure that there will be traffic into the restaurant, and from the business side that is something we look for,” he explained. “A non-traditional location for us is one that has a captive audience or is unusual, like a supermarket or a gas station, an airport or a JCC. A certain percentage of the audience is one that will not leave if they see there is a food establishment – they will eat and stay longer.”

Lichy said his sandwiches are $1.50 to $2 more than a non-kosher Subway. So instead of offering a one-foot tuna or veggie hero for $5 as the non-kosher stores are doing as part of a special promotion, the kosher Subway is selling six-inch tunas and six-inch veggie subs for $5.49.

Another patron, Larry Mankoff of Boca Raton, sat at a table with seven colleagues from an assisted living facility in Aventura. He took at bite out of a meatball sub and said it tasted better than the non-kosher meatball subs he has had at other Subway shops.

“It tastes better and there is more on the sandwich,” he said in between bites. “This is real quality.”

{The Jewish Week/Noam Newscenter}


  1. The more options there are the better it is for all of us. Competition will bring down prices, which are unsustatainable. There is no reason for a kosher chicken to cost 5 times what a non-kosher one costs. Families are going broke.

  2. jr – really? so the yid who has to pay for melicha, shochtim, hashgacha, and more, is the same as the shaiegetz who has a machine chopping up live chickens with nothing else necessary? im surprised kosher meat isnt twice the price it is now
    (no, i do not work in meat)

  3. Steak and “cheese?”

    This is kashrus?

    Can’t we live without fake treif?

    No wonder so many of our kids are opting out.