Business was so brisk Monday at The Pomegranate, the new kosher food venue at Carnegie Mellon University, that Zur Goldblum, its proprietor, had to excuse himself from a news interview after two questions.
Seems his new business was running out of food and he needed to prepare more.
“That’s a good thing I guess,” Goldblum said.
You could say that.
Located on the second floor of the University Center at CMU, next to the City Grill and down the hall from the Downtown Deli, The Pomegranate, which had a soft opening last week (Monday was the first day of the new semester), offers Middle Eastern cuisine. Its grilled meats and sandwiches meet kosher and halal standards for many — though not all — Jewish and Muslim students on campus.
“Over 98-99 percent of the Jewish students at Carnegie Mellon, their dietary needs will be met by this kosher program,” said Aaron Weil, President and CEO of the Hillel Jewish University Center.
The new dining option represents a long, hard struggle to bring kosher food options to the upscale university. While it isn’t acceptable to all, CMU and Jewish leaders say the process will
Few people know how hard the struggle has been better than Kim Abel, director of housing and dining services at CMU. She has been working for four of her five years on the job to bring a kosher food option to campus.
The challenge was to find a vendor who could successfully run a kosher-halal eatery acceptable to many Jewish and Muslim students, while meeting university requirements.
“We have talked to several people,” Abel said. “We sent [requests for proposals] out two years ago to 22 different people and we really had only one group come forth at that time, and it wasn’t compatible with what we
But she credited Hillel University Center President and CEO Aaron Weil and Chabad of CMU Rabbi Shlomo Silverman who continued to find possible vendors for the university.
The problem, according to Weil, was that kosher vendors in Pittsburgh met the standards of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh — the local Orthodox kosher certification authority — and serving the Squirrel Hill market, but not necessarily CMU’s standards.
“Pittsburgh doesn’t have a large enough market for kosher restaurants and, I’ll say, institutional size caterers,” Weil said. “Our long-term goal,” he added, “is we have a kosher-halal program at Carnegie Mellon that meets everyone’s standards.”
The university finally arrived at Goldblum, former proprietor of Sababa on Murray Avenue. Goldblum now operates a catering business out of the kitchen at Congregation Beth Shalom, which is under the authority of Rabbi Michael Werbow, a Conservative rabbi. The rabbi supervises the facility according to halacha (Jewish ritual law).
On the CMU website, The Pomegranate’s food will be described as “prepared at the kosher kitchen located in Congregation Beth Shalom and under the strict supervision of Rabbi Michael Werbow.”
That language is very important, Weil said.
“We worked to find language that would be accurate but also tells those who were reading it that this may not be the level of kashrut they’re looking for.”
The Pomegranate is one of 30
so-called “concept” food locations in 14 different buildings at CMU, all providing diverse food options to an increasingly diverse student body.
“We believe it’s going to enrich our overall program,” Abel said.
The Muslim Student Association was part of the process, Weil said, agreeing that the eatery was “a great first step” even if it didn’t meet all their needs
Abel hopes The Pomegranate’s location, in a high-traffic area of the student union, will encourage students other than Jews and Muslims to give it a try.
Also, “we didn’t want our students who are eating kosher to be separated from the rest of the community,” she said.
While many students will be able to eat at the Pomegranate, it isn’t enough for all Orthodox students.
“We’ve taken that into consideration,” she said. “We were not able to identify an available candidate to operate the location that would meet Vaad certification. Although we understand that desire and need, we believed that this was a firm step in the right
Silverman, the CMU Chabad rabbi, said he will remain engaged to bring a kosher option to campus that meets the needs of all Jewish students. He also commended Abel, who is leaving her position to take another job on campus.
But he expressed regret that an all-inclusive kosher option is not yet
“I don’t think it’s the right step,” Silverman said. “It’s confusing for the students who are coming in.”
He said he is constantly fielding phone calls from parents and schools asking about the availability of kosher food at CMU.
“Unfortunately, right now we do not have an option that’s available to all students,” Silverman said. “Hopefully, we will see better options in the
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)