Oakland Kosher hopes to reopen in late August after one-alarm blaze

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

A fire at Oakland Kosher Foods over the weekend isn’t expected to disrupt business in late September leading up to Rosh Hashanah, but it will keep the East Bay’s only kosher butcher shop closed probably until late August.

After the Aug. 2 blaze was extinguished, and after Shabbat ended, Oakland Kosher co-owner Yuval Atias made one of his first calls to nearby Beth Jacob Congregation, wanting to apprise some of his most loyal customers of the situation.

The Orthodox congregation quickly sent out an e-mail stating that the store would be under construction for three weeks and would be closed during that time.

However, co-owner Gary Freeman said three days after the blaze that it could be longer, depending on insurance, city permits and other red tape. “We just don’t know yet,” he said.

The smoldering, one-alarm fire on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon — which occurred during a big street festival — caused approximately $20,000 of structural damage and $10,000 of content damage to the store, according to a spokesman for the Oakland Fire Department.

“It’s not that bad,” Freeman said. “It’s basically just cosmetic.”

The store, located at 3419 Lakeshore Ave., was closed for Shabbat when the fire began, and no employees were on site.

Investigators working to determine the fire’s origin will file reports within the week, said Lt. David Brue, a spokesman for the Oakland Fire Depart-ment. “There’s no indication we’re looking at arson,” he added.

“There’s no thought of that,” Freeman said, “which is very nice.” He said initial reports are “that it was electrical,” which was also stated by a firefighter on the scene.

Coincidentally, when the fire was reported, a fire truck was parked not more than 100 yards away from Oakland Kosher — but it was there as an attraction for children during the street festival.

That fire truck turned on its flashing lights and drove past a music stage to get to the blaze, setting perhaps a world record response time of two minutes.

“The call came in at 1:41 p.m. and we were on the scene at 1:43 p.m.,” Brue said. Shortly thereafter, a more equipped fire engine responded, driving past thousands of people attending the Grand Lake Farmers Market and Lakefest ’08.

“The fire started on the work counter near some appliances, and smoke damage was sustained on the left side of the store,” Brue said. There was visible damage to the ceiling above the cooking area and to a wall shared with a stationery store next door.

“It was a very weird thing, the fire department said,” Freeman said. “It started inside a wall, and was just smoldering for awhile. There was very little fire [flames]. It was mostly smoke and smoke damage. Papyrus had very little damage outside of just smoke damage.”

The reaction from Beth Jacob, located just over a mile away, was emotional.

“This is devastating news for Yuval, his family, the staff at Oakland Kosher, and also for the entire kosher community. Our thoughts and prayers are with them,” read part of the e-mail, which was sent out Aug. 4 by Kathy Hollander, administrative assistant at Beth Jacob.

No retailer in the East Bay besides Oakland Kosher offers kosher beef, and the nearest alternative is across the bay.

Hollander said Beth Jacob is offering up its kitchen for Oakland Kosher’s catering needs, particularly this week.

After two days of no phone service, the store now is having calls forwarded, “so we can take orders and deal with our clientele,” Freeman said.

He also said owners were weighing the idea of setting up temporary shop in a warehouse and offering delivery service to families and other clients.

Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.