Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.
Many store owners and restaurateurs who signed leases in February are now second-guessing themselves, with the Covid-19 crisis putting their businesses in jeopardy. Yuval Atias isn’t one of them.
“The card and gift shop next door closed a month before Covid, and it was only the second time in 20 years that we had an opportunity like this,” Atias said. “The landlord approached us and gave us a great deal we couldn’t pass on.”
Visitors to Oakland Kosher, located at 3419 Lakeshore Ave., have been witness to the expansion of the store, which has nearly doubled to 3,300 square feet. A new hummus bar/New York-style kosher deli combo is in the front of the addition. There are a few outside tables, which may soon expand into the parking area according to city allowances. (There is also room for indoor seating, now on hold due to Covid.)
Atias has co-owned Oakland Kosher for 30-odd years with partner Gary Freeman. While at first Freeman wondered whether it made financial sense to expand, Atias was looking ahead.
“My oldest son has been working with me, and I see this as planning for his future,” he said about 24-year-old Gal Atias, who has worked with his father for four years. “He’s very polite and American, not like me, so people love him,” he joked. “He’s really outgoing and talks to people. They always tell me he’s the best addition to the store. I’m proud of him.”
Before the expansion, the deli case, refrigerators, freezers and wine sections dominated the floor, with shelf-stable items on moveable wire racks wherever there was extra space. Now the addition is full of mounted shelves, like all grocery stores, and filled with specifically kosher brands and items such as Haribo gummy bears, which have kosher certification (made with fish gelatin). Israeli products include staples such as silan, or date syrup, numerous brands of tahini, and shampoo and laundry detergent — Israelis buy them because the scents remind them of home, Atias said.
Pre-Covid, Atias was planning an open area for bulk sales of nuts and seeds, just like in the shuks in Israel, but Covid canceled that plan; now they’ll be sold in plastic containers. An expanded bakery capacity means more house-made baked goods, along with items from Frena, the San Francisco kosher bakery.
Oakland Kosher sells a pallet’s worth of frozen Israeli pita — that’s 4,800 pitas — every month; Atias believes when the thick, puffy bread is kept on display in the deli, he’ll sell even more.
The store also has entered into a partnership with Bishulim SF, the project of Oakland Israeli chef Aliza Grayevsky Somekh, who will be making desserts, like the Persian milk pudding malabi, specially for the store.
The deli, which is scheduled to open this weekend, features rotisserie chickens, roast chicken, oven-roasted turkey, pulled brisket and house-made corned beef. The store has its own smoker.
The hummus bar includes numerous toppings, such as shwarma, ground beef and ground lamb, plus plenty of vegetarian and vegan toppings including onions, mushrooms, and vegetarian shwarma and beef.
The hummus is made in-house, and Atias has acquired a special new machine to ensure its creaminess. “I think hummus has taken over the U.S.,” he said. “I hear that hummus sales are going faster than Coca-Cola.”
Also available are pickles and a selection of 25 or so prepared salads. Atias said he hopes to draw customers outside of the Jewish community, too.
While Covid has meant the loss of corporate accounts such as Google, Facebook and El Al’s Tel Aviv–SFO route for the foreseeable future (Oakland Kosher provided meals for all three), Atias said it hasn’t hurt the bottom line that much; people working at home still need to eat, too.
When asked about his sense of the kosher-keeping community as he’s observed it over the years, he said, “For every family who leaves the area, there’s one or two families moving here that buy even more.”
Kosher and Israeli shoppers come from as far as Stockton and Sacramento, as well as the South Bay, he said. Indeed, customers waiting in line included an Israeli couple from Sacramento — even buying liquid soap, as Atias attested — and a man who drove from Palo Alto.
Another new acquisition is a store van. Every other week, a delivery is made to the Chabad house in San Mateo, where 12 households have preordered, and they split the delivery charge. Atias is in talks with people in Sacramento, Marin and Palo Alto to set up the same service there.
“Usually businesses who are around this long stay level,” he said. “But our sales are growing all the time. We’re doing really well. We’re excited to be able to survive through all the problems and expand at the same time. People are surprised that we’re growing now, when other people are closing.”
As if to prove his point, a woman walked by and wished him a “yasher koach” on the expansion.