Beth Lee, AKA the "brisket maven," says she's found the most inexpensive brisket at Costco. (Photo/Courtesy Lee)
Beth Lee, AKA the "brisket maven," says she's found the most inexpensive brisket at Costco. (Photo/Courtesy Lee)

How much will your Rosh Hashanah brisket cost this year?

The kosher brisket you always cook for Rosh Hashanah is selling at Mollie Stone’s Markets for $21.99 a pound. A round challah from Irving’s Premium Foods costs $11 a loaf, including delivery. The eggs you need for your honey cake are around $4.50 a dozen at Safeway. A container of cream cheese for your lox and bagels at the Yom Kippur break-fast? Depending on where you shop, that’s about $6 — more than double what it was last year.

Grocery bills have risen sharply in the last year, with the U.S. inflation rate at 8.5%  in July. Bay Area gas prices are still more than $5 a gallon on average. And there’s a nationwide poultry shortage due to a bird flu epidemic — all factors that are impacting the ways we’re shopping and cooking for High Holiday celebrations this year.

Heshy Fried, a chef and kosher caterer based in Oakland, stopped buying his kosher meat locally this year because it climbed out of his price range. Instead, he found a better price from an online vendor that sells pasture-raised glatt kosher beef.

He’ll also drive around the East Bay, where he’s able to find less expensive kosher chickens at Trader Joe’s and load up on eggs at Costco (insider tip: he found the Richmond Costco has the better price over the one in Hayward). He shops at Grocery Outlet three times a week for produce.

“I’ve become an expert on pricing,” Fried said, noting that groceries aren’t the only costs that have gone up. He pays more than he used to on hiring contract workers, and packaging up the food they bring to events is now “a fortune.”

Heshy Fried is an Oakland-based kosher caterer. (Photo/Courtesy Fried)
Heshy Fried is an Oakland-based kosher caterer. (Photo/Courtesy Fried)

“The hidden costs of inflation are things that you can’t charge for, like aluminum pans or parchment paper, or containers,” Fried said. “It adds up.”

As a result, Fried said, he’s had to raise his prices for catering weddings and receptions at bar and bat mitzvahs, as well as turn down requests for smaller events.

“I’ve been turning down 90% of events for the last year,” Fried said, noting that he has raised his minimum fee for events, but tries to bring the cost down by offering a “chef’s choice” option, which gives him more control over what he buys and how much it will cost. 

“It’s hard. I mean, you go to the store and you basically are like, OK, I can’t triple my prices,” Fried said. “I’ve definitely doubled. And there’s definitely more of that to come.”

Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen, which opened its flagship location in San Francisco 10 years ago, has begun offering its Rosh Hashanah menu; there’s a family dinner option at $105 that comes with a round raisin challah, a jar of honey, tsimmes, schmaltz-roasted potatoes, apricot-glazed roast chicken and honey cake. The meal is kosher-style rather than kosher and serves three to four people, according to the menu.

“We try to keep the prices from moving too much from holiday to holiday,” the deli’s founder and CEO Evan Bloom said, estimating that a big order for Rosh Hashanah or a catering order from Wise Sons has climbed between just 3% and 5% over last year. “We’re still not even approaching [the rate of] inflation,” he added.

Evan Bloom is the CEO of Wise Sons. (Photo/Jason Dixson Photography)
Evan Bloom is the CEO of Wise Sons. (Photo/Jason Dixson Photography)

This year, the deli did raise prices on its bagels for the first time since 2015, Bloom said — from $2 to $2.50 per bagel — to keep up with the higher costs of ingredients and labor. It also made its sandwiches 20% bigger but charged only about 14% more, Bloom said, keeping profit margins the same even as meat prices climbed over the last year.

During the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur meal orders peaked as more people dined at home and avoided larger celebrations. Then last year, Bloom said, there were fewer orders, but the orders were much larger, suggesting bigger gatherings were being held again. These fluctuations in demand make it nearly impossible for him to predict holiday margins and volume, he said.

RELATED: A plant-based Rosh Hashanah meal that’s good for you, and for the planet

“To really turn a good profit, we need to be charging a lot more than we are,” Bloom said, noting that he’s concerned about raising prices too much, and losing customers as a result.

“It’s already a tough business. And I think there’s definitely questions about whether it’s sustainable or not,” Bloom said of Jewish delis in general. “[Beyond] the rising cost of food, [there’s] also labor and real estate and utilities and everything else.”

Gary Freeman, vice president of Oakland Kosher Foods Inc, said he’s trying to keep prices low, but he’s also understaffed and paying a lot for overtime.

“You can’t cry over spilt milk,” Freeman said of inflation and rising costs. “You just move forward in a happy, positive way, and hopefully things will get better.”

Gal Atias helps a customer at Oakland Kosher. (Photo/Alix Wall)
Gal Atias helps a customer at Oakland Kosher in 2020. (Photo/Alix Wall)

Irving Greisman, owner of Irving’s Premium Foods, said he’s noticed a 10% drop in orders since increasing the price of his 1 lb. challahs by 40 cents; they’re now $9.90 plus delivery throughout the Bay Area. The cost of wheat has gone up due to Russia’s war in Ukraine, and egg prices have doubled, he said. He worries most about the financial toll inflation is having on his six-person staff.

​”Just as our costs have increased, our employees are experiencing the same issues in their personal lives,” Greisman said. “That is definitely of concern to us.”

Jayne Greenberg of Just Jayne Events plans b’nai mitzvah onegs and receptions, weddings and a host of other Jewish celebrations across the Bay Area, and one thing she tries to do is help hosts stay within budget despite higher costs of food and catering.

For instance, this summer she has planned more b’nai mitzvah receptions in clients’ backyards than in rented facilities. Some are hosting a post-ceremony lunch instead of a formal dinner and reception, and more families are opting for digital invitations over paper ones, saving them hundreds of dollars. Post-ceremony onegs at synagogues have also shrunk, in part because many congregants are tuning in to Saturday services via livestream rather than attending in person. And out-of-town relatives, especially older ones, aren’t attending receptions as frequently as they did pre-pandemic.

Thus, party hosts can do things differently these days. “We’ve learned a lot during Covid,” Greenberg said, “what we can do and how we can do things.”

Beth Lee, a San Jose–based Jewish cookbook author and blogger, considers herself “the brisket maven” of Rosh Hashanah, and would often host as many as 30 people at her home for the holiday dinner. For people like Lee who don’t buy kosher, she’s found the best deal on beef is at Costco. She specifically seeks out an untrimmed cut, which requires more knife work on her part to cut and trim the fat, but saves her more than half the price of a traditional butcher-cut brisket.

Beth Lee is author, most recently, of "The Essential Jewish Baking Cookbook." (Photo/Courtesy Lee)
Beth Lee is author, most recently, of “The Essential Jewish Baking Cookbook.” (Photo/Courtesy Lee)

“My eyes almost popped out of my head because [the cost] was half to maybe even less than half,” Lee said of untrimmed vs. butcher-cut.

For kosher meat shoppers who want to save money, Lee suggests they “switch it up” and make something less expensive, such as a chicken or a different cut of meat that’s less pricey than brisket. Buying a smaller cut of meat and adding more vegetables or dried fruits to the dish can also balance out the costs.

Though she isn’t hosting a large gathering this year, Lee still keeps an eye on grocery store coupons to save money. That’s how she recently got a free bottle of olive oil, saving her $12. She also encourages hosts to ask their guests to bring their favorite side dish or dessert to share, which not only saves on the host’s expenses but makes for an enjoyable recipe exchange among guests.

“Keep that in mind, even though the food’s important, the best thing is to be together, especially after all this that we’ve been through the last couple of years plus,” Lee said. “I think people are just going to be happy to be together.”

Emma Goss
Emma Goss

Emma Goss is a J. staff writer. She is a Bay Area native and an alum of Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School and Kehillah Jewish High School. Emma also reports for NBC Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaAudreyGoss.