Three-and-a-half decades after Shlomo Perelman and David Nadoff purchased Pinsker’s from Abraham and Donald Butler, who themselves had acquired the Judaica business from Milton Pinsker, Perelman has passed the enterprise on to Pittsburghers Dan and Baila Cohen. (Nadoff had already sold his share in the business to Perelman approximately two years after their purchase from the Butlers.) As is common in this community, the Nov. 1 transaction involved an almost circuitous reunification of past associates.
In 1988, Dan Cohen, who was then leasing computers and software, helped Perelman set up his first computer system.
“So I was in and out of here over the years, and because we are friends I’ve helped him out with different things,” Cohen said while seated inside the store located at 2028 Murray Ave. in Squirrel Hill.
When Perelman informed Cohen on Oct. 23 that he was interested in selling Pinsker’s, along with its associated restaurant business, Café 18, and state liquor import — the wine portion of the business, as Cohen explained — Cohen was intrigued.
Years earlier, Cohen had helped create a kosher restaurant two stores up the street, in what is now Green Pepper, he said. At the time, the restaurant’s owner, who was living in Cleveland, was interested in opening a steak place and needed someone to manage it. While he was in town, Perelman connected the Cleveland man with Cohen, who Perelman knew had an interest in food services. Cohen became the manager, helped convert a site that sold stockings into a restaurant and eight months later considered buying the business.
But Cohen walked away from the offer because “I was young,” he said.
For the next 20 years Cohen sold real estate — “it was a safe consistent thing,” he said — and operated a catering business on the side throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.
“It was measured and practical. You don’t have to worry about covering rent, and it kept me in the food business,” he said. Coupling catering with regular income was “the perfect marriage for 20 years.”
But every few years, he would mention to his wife that he would like to one day open his own place.
“I was looking for the right deal in the right place that I could run very tightly and build from the bottom up, where the overhead was something that wasn’t too high, and that’s like winning the lottery,” he explained.
Cohen isn’t certain that Pinsker’s, with its adjacent restaurant and wine selections, checks all of those boxes, but he is willing to give it a go.
“The timing was right, and it’s a very unique situation; it has these three businesses,” he said.
Truth be told, at first, Cohen only wanted to purchase the restaurant. He had no interest in retail.
“Then when I thought of it … there’s still a big cross section of the community that won’t buy online, they want to buy here, whether its wedding gifts or Chanukah gifts,” he said.
His wife agreed.
“Part of our own experience of living in this community was that having a Judaica store that didn’t carry Judaica was frustrating for people,” said Baila Cohen.
So the couple took on the three-part enterprise, which originated in 1954.
“It was very important to me that someone take it over,” said Perelman. “Even though the internet has impacted all retail, certainly the Pittsburgh Jewish community would be remiss and put at a disadvantage if there was no Judaica store or kosher wine store.”
Perelman, who plans on traveling, spending more time with family and exploring other interests, said he is available to aid the new owners whenever and with whatever they need, whether it is “to pick my brain or help decide which hagaddahs sell the best.”
The former owner said he’ll miss the opportunity to work with customers either in person or on the phone and provide “retail outreach,” but he has appreciated their decades of support and recent well wishes.
Having had a few weeks to reflect on the transition, the Cohens and Perelman were able to give some perspective on the timing of a transaction that occurred just days after 11 Jews were murdered inside the Tree of Life synagogue building.
“The air was very different, there was a lot going on, people were showing up for funerals, people were showing up from everywhere, there were reporters, people were showing up all week,” said Dan Cohen. “We were thrown into a lot of things. It wasn’t just a quiet transition.
“The experience we had after the Tree of Life shooting was just remarkable and provided a tremendous amount of closure. It was a terrible tragedy, but I was able to see how the community came together, people came in from out of town — the interactions between them was really quite powerful,” said Perelman. “I wish the new owners, Danny and Baila, appreciate how significant this business is. It’s really a jewel and has to be respected and cared for, which I’m sure they will.”
The Cohens are eager to uphold that commitment and provide a multi-faceted business to the entire community, they said.
Said Dan Cohen, “We look forward to making it into something that works for everyone and keeping it viable.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@