Food for thought
Café Coeur, the Japanese-Italian fusion restaurant certified kosher by the Vaad Hoeir of St. Louis, has closed, at least for a while. The restaurant, which offered handcrafted pizzas and a wide variety of sushi, among other dairy and fish items, opened on April 7 at 10477 Old Olive Street Road in Creve Coeur. Its last day was Sept. 29.
“Business wasn’t what we were hoping; we were a little leaner than anticipated,” said co-owner Moshe Plotnik in explaining the decision to shutter. “We’re closing to reevaluate the model and restructure some components. The hope is to reopen in one form or another. I cannot say exactly when that will be or what.”
Plotnik was vague when pressed for details. Clearly, this couldn’t have been what he and his business partner, Yaniv Sides, a New York-based restaurateur and 17-year veteran of the New York City Police Department, had hoped, or predicted, would happen.
No question the restaurant business is among the riskiest. Some studies put the fail rate at 60 percent within the first year, adding that 80 percent don’t last beyond five.
I wrote an extensive front-page story about Café Coeur on Aug. 28. The article pointed out that in order to succeed, the restaurant not only needed to attract customers who keep kosher but also Jewish and non-Jewish patrons who do not.
While customers, or lack of them, ultimately decide whether a restaurant thrives, survives or dies, many factors contribute to getting them through the door. Of course food, service and ambiance are essential parts of the equation, but food and labor costs, safety and sanitation concerns, management and tight operating margins also figure in.
In addition, kosher establishments have the added challenge of maintaining the restaurant’s kashrut certification, which requires employing a mashgiach, or kosher supervisor, as well as having to be closed from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday — typically, the two most popular nights for eating out.
When I interviewed Chabad Rabbi Yosef Landa, he said a kosher restaurant is an “essential, critical piece to Jewish communal life.” As he noted, “all kinds of good things happen when Jews get together, especially over food. It’s a necessary part of a Jewish community’s infrastructure.”
While St. Louis has a couple of kosher eateries, most notably Kohn’s Kosher Deli, without Café Coeur it lacks a full-service kosher restaurant, with a liquor license, that serves both lunch and dinner.
Cities with Jewish populations much smaller than St. Louis have been able to keep kosher restaurants in business, and those restaurants, in return, likely support their community, too. I sure hope that Plotnik, Sides and others attached to Café Coeur can figure out how to restructure the restaurant so that it can reopen in the near future — and stay in business for a lot longer than six months.
What’s in a name?
In last week’s Celebs column, author Nate Bloom mentioned that James Gray co-wrote and directed the new sci-fi film “Ad Astra,” starring Brad Pitt. But Bloom failed to mention that the other screenwriter is Ethan (born Eitan) Gross, a Jewish 1987 graduate of Ladue Horton Watkins High School and former member of Traditional Congregation.
I spoke to Gross, who explained that he and Gray graduated from film school together at the University of Southern California. The two wrote a script right out of college, but it didn’t go anywhere. Still, they remained friends.
“We started talking about this project eight years ago, but it’s not as if we spent all our time working on it,” said Gross, 50, who worked for three seasons on the Fox science-fiction series “Fringe,” as executive story editor and writer. Gross said Gray tapped him for “Ad Astra” not just out of friendship but also because of Gross’ sci-fi writing experience.
When I asked what interested him in the project, Gross explained, “I like the idea of someone having to explore something far away in order to explore themselves. I also liked showing how difficult space travel really is. A lot of space movies make it seem like it’s traveling on an airplane and it’s nothing like that.”
As for the movie’s name, “Ad Astra,” which I want to call Ed Asner, Gross laughed and said, “Its full title is ‘Ad Astra Per Aspera,’ which in Latin means ‘to the stars through hardship.’ That, in essence, is what the movie is all about.”
Expert advice on what colleges are — and aren’t — looking for
High school students and parents interested in learning the ins and outs of the college admission process, might want to check out Andy Greenspan when he speaks at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10, at the Center of Clayton, 50 Gay Ave.
Greenspan is director of college advising for International College Counselors (ICC), which works with students worldwide to offer strategies for admission in an increasingly competitive environment. His free talk, “College Admissions: What Colleges Are Looking For — and How to Get In,” focuses on what students need to do in high school in order to stand out, improve their odds of admission and make a college want them. This does NOT include paying to fraudulently inflate ACT and SAT scores or bribe college officials. Rather, attendees at Greenspan’s talk will hear about the role grades, standardized tests, course load and extracurricular activities play in order for students to legitimately get into the college of their choice.
Prior to joining ICC, Greenspan served as a consultant for more than 40 college admissions and development offices, including Yale, Princeton, Duke, the University of Chicago, Smith, Carleton, Pomona and Wharton.
News and Schmooze is a weekly column by Editor Ellen Futterman. Email Ellen at: firstname.lastname@example.org