Readers Choice 2013: Time to Celebrate

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Kosher food hasn’t been left behind in the farm-to-table movement, with its emphasis on fresh, local, sustainably produced food. Local kosher caterers offer delectable, beautifully plated dishes that adhere to kashrut.

The East Bay’s Epic Bites Catering proudly provides “modern food without losing sight of tradition.” Owner Isaac Bernstein is a French-trained chef who uses fresh ingredients from small farms to create epicurean kosher meals. He says he and his staff take their food and customer service very seriously but manage to “maintain a calm and fun work environment.” Above all, what makes his business special, he says, is that all of his employees love what they do. In less than a year, Bernstein has gained the attention of adventurous kosher gastronomes.

Oakland Kosher Foods is a one-stop full kosher shop. In addition to catering, OKF has a butcher shop, deli, café, impressive wine selection and large selection of products from Israel (including the popular shwarma). Meeting the needs of the Jewish community for more than 25 years, OKF’s catering services run the gamut from basic to gourmet. Vice president Gary Freeman says OKF has catered events at the Moscone and Santa Clara convention centers, as well as a number of Bay Area hotels.

Too Caterers, a subsidiary of Palo Alto’s Continental Caterers, combines innovative kosher menus with freshly made, healthy choices. For 35 years the company has provided “traditional Jewish life-cycle events with unique options in food presented in an inviting manner,” says general manager Wendy Kleckner. “From the very first contact … you will know that your event will be tailored to you.” Just as important as the attention to customer needs is the quality of the ingredients used to prepare each dish. “Nothing is outsourced. All food is made fresh on-site.”

East Bay

Epic Bites Catering


(845) 642-4230

Oakland Kosher Foods


(510) 839-0177


South Bay/Peninsula

Too Caterers

Palo Alto

(650) 322-4189



Music may be the food of love, but it can’t replace real nourishment, which is an essential part of any celebration.

Ann’s Catering meets the needs of many East Bay celebrants. Though not a full-service caterer, the outfit offers an extensive menu of appealing, healthy, fresh food that does not require reheating, is plattered and made ready for pick-up or delivery. No further preparation is needed — just make sure to bring an appetite and appreciation for good food. An outgrowth of Berkeley’s popular Rick & Ann’s Restaurant (though offering different food), Ann’s Catering has provided an affordable and casual alternative to more formal catering services for 12 years. And, if needed, Ann’s will provide referrals for staff and rental equipment.

Continental Caterers, based in Palo Alto, has been feeding celebrants since 1938. Events specialist Wendy Kleckner (yes, she of the kosher Too Caterers) says Continental continues to collect accolades because “we pride ourselves in understanding current food trends and our ability to be on the cutting edge of exciting new culinary styles. With so many new trends in the food industry, we are constantly re-creating our menus to meet expectations. Continental Caterers offers a variety of delectable food which can be tailored to the demands of our clients at a surprisingly moderate price.”

Delicious! Catering has been serving traditional Jewish dishes — using founder Jan Goldberg’s family recipes — along with modern adaptations of Jewish classics since 1975. The green-certified Marin company takes full advantage of many fresh, locally grown ingredients along with tailoring the menu and the style of service to the individuals involved. In addition to catering joyous events, Goldberg says that as “a service business, we provide catering for last-minute events, such as memorials, knowing that the bereaved family needs support at this time.”

East Bay

Ann’s Catering


(510) 649-0869


South Bay/Peninsula

Continental Caterers

Palo Alto

(650) 322-4189


North Bay

Delicious! Catering

San Rafael

(415) 453-3710



When it’s time to celebrate, readers know whom to call for a good time. Have entertainment, will travel!

Alan Waltz Entertainment in San Jose offers world-class DJs and entertainers for all occasions, not only in the South Bay but Bay Area–wide. With more than 10 years of experience hosting b’nai mitzvah, owner Alan Waltz says, “Clients come back to us because they are comfortable that we will help create the perfect atmosphere in any situation.” He believes that referrals and repeat business are a direct result of the company’s approach and sums it up by saying, “We do not want to just meet your expectations, we want to exceed them — for you, your family and your guests.”

Planning a celebration but don’t know what kind of entertainment you’re looking for? Not a problem for Denon & Doyle Entertainment, based in the East Bay. Executive director Dan Ohrman says the company provides DJs for all types of events, but its specialty is “high energetic, interactive disc jockey entertainment for bar and bat mitzvahs.” Ohrman lauds his talented staff for making each occasion memorable. “We spend a lot of time … planning the right type of party … and then executing accordingly.” To stay current and continue to meet clients’ expectations, the 10 emcees, 10 DJs and more than 40 “party motivators” attend trainings and workshops year-round.

Bay Area

Alan Waltz Entertainment

San Jose

(408) 243-4931/ (650) 544-8590


Denon & Doyle Entertainment

Pleasant Hill

(800) 944-9585 •



A party just isn’t a celebration without music. From the traditional “Tumbalalaika” to the contemporary “Blurred Lines,” these Bay Area bands hit all the right notes.

Band leader and performer Mikel Estrin, who put together Haimish Music 30 years ago, says the group “plays familiar and … beloved Jewish music mixed with the flavors of Israel, Europe and America, generating an infectious beat and festive mood for dancing, shmoozing or just listening and tapping your toes.” Known primarily for klezmer, Haimish Music also performs Israeli, Russian, Ukrainian, Greek, Gypsy and Hungarian music.

When it comes to party entertainment, Peninsula and South Bay readers give a thumbs-up to Joel Nelson Productions. In business for 32 years, Nelson provides musical entertainment for b’nai mitzvah, weddings and other special events throughout the Bay Area. With an array of options — DJs, emcees, band and DJ together, along with dancers, lighting, photo booths and more — each event can be personalized for the client. Nelson says that personal touch is why his company receives referrals from “most of the top hotels, caterers, photographers, videographers and event planners.”

Based in the North Bay, the Jubilee Klezmer Ensemble has been keeping the Old World tradition alive for 13 years. Founder Paul Alexander says his group feels “honored when people choose our band to help celebrate their wedding day, bar or bat mitzvah, birthday, anniversary or other simcha.” The musicians dedicate themselves to preserving and performing the rich legacy “bestowed on us by the klezmorim of past generations.” Their repertoire includes Israeli dance music, swing, jazz, ballroom, Beatles and Elvis Presley, as well as gutsy blues. “We love the music, and we truly enjoy sharing it with others.”

Bay Area

Haimish Music

Castro Valley

(510) 276-6764

Joel Nelson Productions

San Jose

(800) 578-5780

Jubilee Klezmer Ensemble


(707) 762-1070


Party Planner

Most everyone enjoys a celebration, but some of us have a tough time planning the logistics of a party. Thankfully, the Bay Area is home to businesses that offer everything from a bit of organizing advice to taking care of every last detail.

Glow Event Design in San Francisco specializes in weddings, b’nai mitzvah, corporate events and social gatherings. In addition to making customer service a priority, owner Christina Millikin, whose background is fashion design, says creative design service sets Glow Event apart. She says her company makes “a custom design presentation featuring décor options and inspiration photos of everything from floral arrangements and linens to furniture and lighting, so the client can really see what their event will look like.” Whether it’s a small gathering of 50 people or a 400-person gala, Glow Event Design brings efficient and professional service and creative options to each event.

Sisters Shana Goldberg and Tanya Shore say Simcha Sisters “has given us the opportunity to turn our passion [for] event planning into a service that celebrates some of the greatest and most profound Jewish rites of passage.” The hands-on team “works with each client … to ensure everything runs smoothly, giving our clients peace of mind and allowing them to be a guest at their own party.” As well as helping “clients make the most of these very special occasions,” the sisters “are also rewarded with a feeling of pride in our ability to make a difference in the community.”

Amy Albert, of A Gala Event on the Peninsula, works to ensure that her clients can enjoy their party without having to worry or think about any of the logistics or details — they’ve all been taken care of. Each event is customized, from selecting a theme and the appropriate band, to DJ, florist, photographer, videographer, etc., right down to the décor. Timelines, floor plans and seating arrangements are all part of the planning process. Though A Gala Event plans and produces all manner of corporate as well as private events, weddings and b’nai mitzvah are a specialty.

San Francisco

Glow Event Design

(415) 722-3611


East Bay

Simcha Sisters

Walnut Creek

(925) 984-7024


South Bay/Peninsula

A Gala Event

(650) 814-5312


Party Venue

When it comes to places for partying, the Bay Area has plenty. But readers have recommendations, and — no surprise — a couple of Jewish community centers are among them.

The JCC of San Francisco opened its beautiful new building almost a decade ago. With 15 rooms and 15,000 square feet of versatile, elegant spaces for private events — ranging from conferences and concerts to retreats and weddings — the center handles everything from intimate banquet rooms to theater-style seating for 468 people. The facility has three catering kitchens and onsite parking. Nathaniel Bergson-Michelson, director of strategic marketing and communications, says, “Full of light and life, it is a place where generations of San Franciscans have gathered to learn, have fun and make friends.”

The historic Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco’s Merchants Exchange Building is a venue for weddings and nonprofit galas as well as conferences and corporate meetings. In the past couple of years, the Financial District site has hosted events for President Obama and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, among others. The architecturally stunning space, which dates back more than 100 years, has been “lavishly renovated and fully updated with modern amenities,” according to Phil Spiegel, general manager and VP of sales for Merchants Exchange Productions.

The Peninsula JCC is known for its b’nai mitzvah parties and its birthday bashes for toddlers to teens. The staff at the Foster City facility knows how to throw a great themed party, too. Program coordinator Kris Marechal says, “I try to make a potentially stressful event completely stress-free for the parents so that kids and parents alike are able to enjoy their child’s special day.”

The Marin Art and Garden Center in Ross offers a serene environment for weddings, b’nai mitzvah, nonprofit fundraisers, memorial services, company meetings and more. The 11 acres of exquisitely maintained gardens — “brimming with beautiful foliage and flowers,” says rental manager Stacey Kamp — along with well-appointed indoor and outdoor facilities make the center a popular venue.

San Francisco

JCC of San Francisco

(415) 292-1200


Julia Morgan Ballroom

(415) 591-1833


South Bay/Peninsula

Peninsula JCC

Foster City

(650) 212-7522


North Bay

Marin Art and Garden Center


(415) 454-1301



When it comes to commemorating celebrations and life-cycle events, everyone wants the photographs to reflect the joyousness of the occasion. Readers recommend these local pros for their ability to capture all of it.

The tagline for Berkeley-based Shoey Sindel Photography is “You create the moment, I’ll create your memory,” and Sindel works hard to live up to that motto. She specializes in wedding and b’nai mitzvah photography and portraits. Her “understanding of Jewish ceremonies and what significant moments and shots are important to my clients” makes a difference in her “ability to capture the essence of each person and event I photograph.” She sees her photographs as beautiful works of art that her clients will cherish forever. “I know I’m successful when my clients cry when they see my photos,” she says.

The South Bay’s Jeff Cable got his start photographing b’nai mitzvah events, but he has since worked around the world, including photographing a number of Olympic Games. He also has taught photography to professionals (including at B&H Photo in New York City, a big deal in the industry). But Jeff Cable Photography continues to photograph b’nai mitzvah, as well as weddings and other special occasions. He is familiar with numerous synagogues and reception venues throughout the Bay Area and beyond and says he takes great pride in getting the photos that represent the spirit and emotion of the event.

Norm Levin of Natural Portraits and Events in San Rafael strives to capture the unstaged and spontaneous moments, he says, because those are the photographs that portray the essence and emotion of an event. Levin covers most Bay Area counties (he will even travel to your destination wedding). To get an idea of what he means when he says he takes pictures with spirit, check out Levin’s photos on his website from a past exhibit at the Marin JCC, “Celebrating Jewish Life in Marin.”

East Bay

Shoey Sindel



(510) 917-0659


South Bay/Peninsula

Jeff Cable Photography


(408) 821-5333

North Bay

Natural Portraits and Events

San Rafael

(415) 499-1403