Yehuda: Growing up in Silver Spring and having an interest in food and cooking, I never could understand the dearth of kosher or even traditionally Jewish restaurants in the Greater Washington area, both in quantity and quality. Some bright spots came and went, but overall, the constant refrain was “kosher is too difficult or too expensive. Only places like NY, LA or Miami can support those businesses.” I refused to believe this.
If someone were to show me a kosher restaurant whose quality and service was indistinguishable from any of the top DC spots in their category, and it was still struggling, I’d have given up hope. But the general feeling always was that kosher is a liability instead of an opportunity. Kosher restaurants can’t be run to the same standards that win accolades and awards.
It’s a story for another time, but my Savta, the only grandparent I’ve been lucky to know and link to generations past, literally survived the last days of Holocaust while others did not, because she insisted on only eating kosher food. In Budapest (then in Hungary) she did not grow up rigorously observant, her family was traditionally Jewish, but very integrated into the society and culture. In that moment, her decision very easily could have been considered fatal folly, a life-threatening sacrifice. But without that choice, none of my close to 50 extended family members would be here today.
What can I do to make Jewish and kosher food more appealing, more accessible, and more comforting to everyone in my area? How can we build a thriving, vibrant workplace that not only adheres to the highest standards of kosher, but to the highest standards across the board in hospitality? How can we extend the values of kosher, chesed (kindness), hachnasat orchim (taking care of guests and visitors) further into everyday life? Those are some of the most important questions and motivations behind what we do at Schmaltz Brothers.
Yehuda: Chappall and I had been exploring our first move into the kosher ecosystem here for almost two years before opening up the Schmaltz Brothers truck. With so few options, we had almost too much opportunity as far as where to start. The truck seemed like an easy entrance. Little did we know how impactful it would be to have a mobile restaurant during a pandemic.
Yehuda: Schmaltz is an important signifier of what we’re trying to accomplish. Rendered from chicken fat, it’s a product of respecting your ingredients, using all available resources at our disposal. As a substitute for dairy fats in meat dishes, it’s a connection to thousands of years of Jewish tradition. And it’s delicious, so there’s no beating that.
Colloquially, “schmaltzy” has come to mean a kind of sentimentality that, if overused, can feel trite, but used properly, can evoke deep emotion. Chappall and I are both sentimental guys, with a deep respect for history and tradition. We’ve been blessed with a growing team of genuine, heartfelt and hospitable professionals, who are committed to our mission, and in that way, we’re all Schmaltz Brothers.
Yehuda: There’s no one genius among us. We strive to be a deeply collaborative team. Each new member to join has contributed his or her own ideas, creativity, and personality. Our kitchen team is led by Chefs Colin Penn, Angel Aranzamendi, and Colin Lauer, each of whom have a wealth of restaurant experience and creativity.
Yehuda: It’s been a tough year for everyone in the food business, so our main goals are to introduce our brand to the community, share our vision of modern kosher food, and prepare ourselves for an amazing 2021.
Yehuda: Instagram and Facebook are a great place for information generally, and also the quickest way to figure out where our truck is. We are building a new website as we speak which we will hopefully be rolling out in the next month or so.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.