Walk up to Bo-Dogs, a fast-food eatery a block from the Verizon Center and one word predominates.
The bright red-and-white signs over the awnings announce “kosher hot dogs.” The signboard near the outdoor tables along E Street advertises the “100% kosher Bo-Burger.” And a poster that customers pass as they line up to order announces: “Keepin’ it kosher.”
“You’ve heard the word kosher, but did you know that it literally means ‘fit to eat’?” it reads. “Our mission is to provide … the highest standards for quality, cleanliness and safety.”
Unlike other Washington-area restaurants that advertise themselves as kosher, however, Bo-Dogs has no rabbinic inspection to certify that the restaurant follows the arcane laws of kashrut.
Joseph Jemal, Bo-Dogs’ co-owner, said that the restaurant’s steak and hamburger patties are glatt kosher – meaning that in addition to being ritually slaughtered, the animal had smooth lungs. Hot dogs are from Hebrew National, he said.
But Bo-Dogs puts cheese on its burgers and dogs at patrons’ requests, a violation of the prohibition of mixing milk with meat.
Jemal makes a distinction between his meat – which he advertises as kosher – and his restaurant.
“The place is not kosher,” Jemal said last week. “If people ask about it, we make it very clear.”
Told that kosher meat when cooked on a nonkosher grill is no longer kosher, he said, “I know. I’m an Orthodox Jew. I don’t see what the issue is.”
It is an issue for Rabbi Eli Sufrin of Star-K, a Baltimore-based kashrut inspection and certification agency.
“To me it sounds like kosher style – a type of food that people would recognize as Jewish,” he said. “If they say it’s glatt kosher, it’s a misinterpretation and it’s misleading to the public.”
The restaurant’s website describes Bo-Dogs as “DC’s Authentic Old World Kosher Style Restaurant” on one page. On another, “It’s the Kosher Difference!”
“There are standards for what is kosher,” explained Sufrin. “Not only are you not allowed to cook meat and milk together, or eat it, you’re not allowed to benefit from it. You can’t even feed your animals with it.”
“Once kosher meat touches any significant amount of dairy it becomes nonkosher,” said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, executive director of American Friends of Lubavitch in Washington, who has helped purveyors open and maintain kosher restaurants.
Lunchtime diners on Tuesday were either unaware or indifferent about the kosher status of the food they were eating.
“I just happened to walk by, and I am hungry,” explained Brittany Diaz of California.
“I love hot dogs. I am not Jewish. It doesn’t really matter to me,” said Randall Davis of Virginia, who declared his hot dog “real good.”
But Jenna Moran of Washington was pleased that the hot dogs were sold as kosher.
“Then you would know it’s pure,” she said of the kosher labelling. “My dad is a hot dog connoisseur, and he goes for kosher.”
When asked if she kept kosher, Moran said she did not.
Michael Stephen of Maryland, who was eating his burger at an outside table with several friends, said that his meat – at least at the uncooked stage – being kosher was a definite plus.
“It’s more pure,” he said, adding, “I like the fact that it’s not cooked with anything else.”
“It’s quite misleading,” said Shemtov. “Any way you slice it, it looks kind of treif to me. If the owners are indeed Orthodox, they should know better.”
Senior Writer Suzanne Pollak contributed to this article.