Kitchen Table reaches ‘heartbreaking’ decision to shut downThursday, May 31, 2012 | by emma silvers
Just three years after opening its doors, the Bay Area’s most upscale kosher restaurant is serving its last meal. The Kitchen Table, a white-tablecloth eatery in downtown Mountain View that serves what it bills as “California contemporary kosher cuisine,” will close after dinner on Sunday, June 3.
In a heartfelt message posted to the restaurant’s website, Facebook page and Twitter feed, managers thanked fans and customers for their support and the “many amazing moments” the past three years have brought, “including family occasions, holidays, outstanding wine dinners and important community events.”
The note continued: “We’ve been honored to serve this community and hope to have the opportunity to do so in the future.”
So what happened? Are there simply too few Jews who keep kosher in the Bay Area? Were entrées too expensive? Was the cuisine not unique enough in a food-obsessed region? Or do the constraints of running a high-end kosher eatery make it too difficult to stay afloat?
Frank Klein, a veteran restaurateur and the CEO of Palo Alto–based FK Restaurants & Hospitality, said not having an owner on location made operations difficult at the Kitchen Table.
“It’s very hard for people running a restaurant to not be on site,” said Klein, referring to the current owners, a group headed by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Bobby Lent, as “a silent group of investors who care deeply about the community.”
“It was a heartbreaking decision, but the owners felt that it was best to close down at this point and potentially do something down the road,” said Klein, who acted as spokesperson for the restaurant.
Operating as a kosher restaurant “can be limiting,” said Leo Beckerman, co-owner of Wise Sons Delicatessen, a non-kosher eatery in San Francisco. “But at the same time, I recognize the need for a kosher restaurant. For people who do keep kosher, there should definitely be a place for them to go out and eat. But I know of a number of kosher restaurants that have not been able to survive for one reason or another — and not just in the Bay Area.”
Rabbi Yosef Levin of Chabad of the Greater South Bay said the Kitchen Table was a “community institution.”
“I’m incredibly sorry to see it go,” he said, adding that he did a lot of his outreach work over lunch at 142 Castro St., the restaurant’s location on the northeast end of a busy commercial strip. “Aside from having a place I could go out to eat, it was wonderful when I wanted to meet with people, or if I had people coming from out of town.”
Levin said he knew many of the families involved in the business. “It was their goal to have a kosher restaurant in the community, and I think they understood that they weren’t going to make any profit on it,” he said. “We owe them a debt of gratitude for coming together to make it happen in the first place.”
Rabbi Levy Zirkind, the rabbinic administrator for the Vaad Hakashrus of Northern California, which gave the restaurant its kosher supervision, said high-end kosher eateries face a slew of financial challenges.
“It’s about demographics and economics,” he said. “They bent over backwards to serve a good kosher meal at a decent price … everyone looked at it as a community effort. But ultimately [the owners] saw that they were losing money.”
Zirkind said that, while nothing’s definite, the Kitchen Table may have a buyer — and the spot might be en route to becoming a deli. At this point, he says, it “may or may not be kosher.” Ultimately, however, the rabbi said, that’s where the future of viable kosher business lies — with less formal “deli-style” eating.
The Kitchen Table opened in 2009 to positive reviews and became known for unique artisanal dishes crafted by founding chef Chaim Davids, who was able to mix what he had learned from kosher butchers in his native Baltimore with the experience he got by cooking at some restaurants in the Napa Valley.
In the summer of 2010, Davids moved to Jerusalem to help open Moise, a kosher restaurant based on similar concepts as the Kitchen Table, and passed the title of executive chef to local chef Steven Long. On Facebook and Yelp, patrons of the Mountain View restaurant say quality of food was of utmost importance, as was the emphasis on using local, in-season produce.
All meats at the Kitchen Table were house-cured; Tuesdays were for ribs. The “knish of the day” sometimes incorporated non-traditional ingredients such as tomatoes and arugula. Regular diners included observant Jews who kept kosher as well as employees of the nearby tech giants in the South Bay. Frequent wine pairing events with local kosher wineries brought in other clientele. As of the week before closing, the lunch rush was busy as ever.
Of the handful of kosher restaurants left in the Bay Area, none has a focus on fine dining. One that did, Noah Alper’s Bar Ristorante Raphael in downtown Berkeley, closed in 2007 after just four years of operation. Even with the Kitchen Table joining Raphael’s in the restaurant graveyard, “I’m still proud of the amount of kosher food available in the Bay Area,” Zirkind said. “And the community’s not [even] behind it.”
To stay in touch, become a fan on the Facebook page The Kitchen Table Restaurant. Spokesman Frank Klein said information about what’s next for the restaurant’s community will be posted there.