Food operations feel heat as Passover rush begins

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Proprietors of Bay Area Jewish food-related businesses are feeling the pressure as the pre-Passover shopping rush begins. As frenzied as things can get, it is an exciting time of year as they fill orders for new and regular customers and hope that the extra business boosts their bottom lines.

“There’s always that sense of urgency year-round, but it’s especially intense right now,” said Evan Bloom, co-owner of San Francisco’s Wise Sons Delicatessen.

This will be Bloom and his partner Leo Beckerman’s second Passover at their restaurant in the Mission District. “The holiday came soon after we opened last year, and it was quite an experience,” Bloom said.

Katia Sukhotskaya of Grand Bakery dips coconut macaroons into chocolate. photo/bob jaffe

Bloom is expecting more catering orders than last year, and he expects them to start flowing in more heavily as the holiday nears.

Wise Sons is not kosher, so it will remain open for the entire holiday, and its four on-site seders are already sold out. The matzah will be handmade by Beauty’s Bagel Shop in Oakland (also available for pickup orders). Last year Wise Sons made 800 gefilte fish balls; this year the number could go even higher.

At Oakland’s Grand Bakery, the pre-Passover production numbers are enormous, as orders pour in for macaroons and other sweet treats. “We’ll make around 20,000 macaroons to fill Passover orders,” said bakery owner Bob Jaffe. “Saul’s Deli in Berkeley has already called in an order for 2,500.”

Jaffe said he tries to keep things as organized as possible during this hectic time of year. “People call in asking if they should order or just come in, and I basically get them to order right then and there while I have them on the phone,” he said. “I like to be able to plan ahead and have orders boxed up and ready for pickup. It’s a time saver for everyone.”

Grand Bakery’s biggest seller at Passover is macaroons. Jaffe makes a special almond version for the holiday, but the most popular are the coconut ones dipped in chocolate. The marzipan log and chocolate soufflé cake are also hot items.

Grand Bakery is closed for the weeklong holiday. But while the bakery is kosher, it is not kosher for Passover, so its religiously observant customers are not the ones placing holiday orders. “Our corporate clients like Mollie Stone’s are placing larger orders than usual, and our individual customers this time of year are people looking for traditional Passover treats who aren’t necessarily concerned that they be kosher for Passover,” Jaffe said.

Religiously observant customers do come into the shop after they have cleaned their homes for Passover, to enjoy their last hametz before the holiday. Since the first seder falls on a Monday, he expects big sales of challah and other yeasty goods the Friday before. “[Customers] buy our savory items like bourekas and sit down and eat them here in the store,” Jaffe explained.

Adeline Bron works the counter at Pars Kosher Market in San Jose.

The same thing happens at Izzy’s Brooklyn Bagels in Palo Alto. “The morning before the first seder we are always packed like on a Sunday,” said manager Diana Arzate. “Actually, for the few days before Passover, we have lots more Jewish people coming in to eat here because they can no longer eat at home.”

According to Arzate, Izzy’s sees about a 10 percent increase in sales right before Passover, which is comparable to the bump before every major Jewish holiday. Like Grand Bakery, Izzy’s is not kosher for Passover and closes for the week.

By contrast, Pars Kosher Market in San Jose goes into complete kosher-for-Passover mode beginning two weeks before the holiday, cleaning away the slightest bit of hametz and koshering all their equipment. “Right now it’s busy,” proprietor Nadia Haluyan said during the first week of March. “In a week’s time it’s going to get crazy.”

Haluyan said she is expecting twice as many pre-Passover customers as last year, with some coming from as far away as San Francisco and Monterey. The store’s offerings include new and varied items such as kosher-for-Passover almond and cashew butters and four varieties of kosher-for-Passover ketchup. Ordering all her Passover inventory from Los Angeles, she has had to plan ahead. “Our customers plan ahead, too,” she noted. “They don’t tend to come in last minute.”

For the professionals doing the cooking, baking and ordering to help people get ready for Passover, these weeks can be exhilarating, but also exhausting. “The best thing right now,” said Jaffe, referring to the week he will be closed, “is that I know my one break during the year is coming up.”

Renee Ghert-Zand
Renee Ghert-Zand

Renee Ghert-Zand is a Jerusalem-based freelance journalist. She made aliyah from Palo Alto with her family in June 2014.