Filling a void for a dwindling Orthodox neighborhood
The Seward Park Coop Board will vote this week on what will fill the vacant space where Noah's Ark Deli once stood. Noah's Ark was among the last true kosher restaurants on the Lower East Side. As of now, the most vocal contender to take its place is Holy Schnitzel, a kosher local fast food chain that already has three establishments on Long Island, Staten Island and Brooklyn.
But does the Lower East Side need a kosher restaurant?
"There is no demand here anymore," said David Davatgar, co-owner of Shalom Chai Pizza, a kosher pizza spot just down the block from the open space. "They'd come from Queens, Brooklyn. Now? Nothing."
While the Lower East Side once had a large and vibrant Jewish community, peaking in 1910 when over 300,000 Jewish immigrants lived in the area, now fewer than 80,000 people total call the neighborhood home, with around half of that number being of Asian descent.
"There used to be more synagogues," Shalom Chai co-owner Joseph Moradi said. "It's the cost of living, the rising rent. You see these people?" Moradi gestures to pedestrians on a nearly empty street. "Yuppies!"
Recently, a petition circulated online, urging the Seward Park Coop to approve a kosher eatery in the space.
"The Lower East Side is the bedrock of our people here in New York and has much history - both culturally and from a religious perspective - to offer to generations to come," said petition signer and downtown resident Menachem Kastner. "Thus, this restaurant is vital to us. It will bring people back - first as visitors - and then as residents."
Another group in support of a kosher restaurant in the area is the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy. The LESJC was founded in 1998 with a mission to preserving and celebrating the Jewish Culture and history on the Lower East Side. Laurie Tobias Cohen, the executive director of the LESJC, admits that the Jewish population isn't as big as it once was.
"When people are part of a traditional community, it becomes all the more complicated living in the city," said Cohen, referring to the difficulty of large families and high rent. "But, there is evidence of a younger Jewish population moving into the area, so it's going both ways."
As far as what business is going to take the open space, Cohen has a clear opinion.
"My understanding is that Holy Schnitzel is willing to pay the price and has a good idea of what they want to do there," said Cohen. "They're going to appeal to a bigger audience that isn't just kosher."
Owners of Holy Schnitzel could not be reached for comment.