Ben Yehuda Cafe & Pizzeria didn’t have a delivery service a year ago, but that changed after COVID-19. When the pandemic prevented customers from coming to the restaurants, the restaurants had to find a way to come to them.
“We were talking about [delivering] before, but [the pandemic] accelerated the process when we realized we got to do what we can to get any business we can,” manager Sachy Cohen said.
Kosher restaurants across Washington began experimenting with different delivery models after state and local governments first put a halt to indoor dining around March 2020. Many eateries have found success in coordinating mass pickups with synagogues.
Ben Yehuda partnered with Ohev Sholom – The National Synagogue in Washington to organize deliveries about a month after quarantine began. This involved the congregation periodically coordinating a large number of home deliveries in the synagogue’s vicinity. Prior to this, Ben Yehuda only did catering, dine-in and carry out. But Cohen said the pandemic has made delivery “a big help for either people who aren’t able to or don’t want to leave the house.”
Ben Yehuda replicated the model in other parts of Washington, like in the Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle neighborhoods, but advertised these orders through social media instead of through a synagogue. These efforts were fruitful, garnering around 20 to 30 orders each time, but Cohen said they struggled to get orders in suburbs like Aspen Hill and Potomac.
Eventually Ben Yehuda stopped doing mass pickups after adopting DoorDash, an online food ordering service that Cohen said easily integrated with their cash register system. Ever since, Ben Yehuda has delivered to customers’ homes without coordinating a large number of them in a specific area.
“Once we’ve got that rolling, that it’s on-demand delivery, we figured we don’t need to do the group delivery routes anymore because anyone who wants can order whenever they want,” Cohen said.
Holy Chow! in Silver Spring has done mass pickups since opening in 2018 and plans to continue the service beyond the pandemic. Owner Ami Schreiber said it’s a similar model to what Ben Yehuda did, but instead of delivering to people’s homes, Holy Chow! selects a specific location like a neighborhood or synagogue for customers in the area to pick up orders at. Schreiber said this service has increased in popularity since the pandemic, which he attributes to people seeking a social outlet or an opportunity to leave the house.
“More and more synagogues, as they’ve wanted to have some kind of an event, the picking up of the food is an event in of itself. It gives people time to socialize,” Schreiber said. “They get to schmooze a little bit, and I think people look forward to stuff like that.”
A few months back Schreiber discontinued mass pickups in College Park and downtown Washington due to lack of interest. He attributes this to more college students living off campus since the pandemic and taking virtual classes.
Regardless of COVID-19, Schreiber believes the mass pickup service will continue to grow due to word of mouth.
“Anything that becomes routine, people get used to and it’s something that they expect and want to do,” Schreiber said. “As soon as people start going back [to in-person events], a whole bunch of them that didn’t even know that we do it, they’re going to start ordering. I think it’s really going to increase because the word will spread.”
Schmaltz Brothers has a different take on mass pickups because they operate out of a food truck. Co-owner Yehuda Malka said his restaurant on wheels initially planned to target the office lunch crowd in downtown Washington and Silver Spring prior to launching in June 2020. But the pandemic put a stop to that plan as a lot of people are now working from home. So Schmaltz Brothers set their sights on a different audience: synagogues.
“In the strategy of trying to find different markets, the real lowest hanging fruit for us, a kosher, Jewish-style food truck restaurant, has been reaching out to synagogues and getting in touch with their congregation base,” Malka said. “So we’ve been very successful with that.”
The beauty of having a food truck is the ability to drive around to different neighborhoods, according to Malka. The food truck has serviced customers at synagogues as far north as Baltimore and as far south as Chantilly. Customers can pre-order online, but all meals are cooked on location. Malka foresees this collaboration with synagogues continuing beyond COVID-19, especially in areas where kosher restaurants are scarce like in Northern Virginia.
“The more you can make things convenient for people, the better. And it’s not like after the pandemic five or 10 restaurants [are] just going to pop up out of the ground in neighborhoods that are convenient for people,” Malka said. “So we’re simply going to continue to utilize that as an opportunity.”