A lawyer friend of mine recently hosted a visit from a senior partner at his firm who happened to be from out of town and an Orthodox Jew. Being hospitable, my friend tried to find a source of authentic, kosher food to cater their meetings. He hit a brick wall. He couldn’t find a single restaurant or catering company that followed all the rules and procedures for preparing kosher food. Miami has lots, so does Orlando, but nothing near Tampa. So my friend had food brought in from out of town. I’m not trying to prove a negative that there is absolutely no kosher around here, but Avi Levanon recently saw that same gap in the market and saw a business opportunity. Born in Israel, Levanon comes to Tampa from Connecticut, and just last month opened a prototype, fully kosher restaurant in Tampa called Yummy Grill that he hopes will be the platform for expansion. Falafels, salads, beef hot dogs, burgers, hummus and his most popular item, Shawarma, which is typically lamb, beef, turkey and chicken filets, spiced, stacked on a kind of gyro spike and rotisserie cooked.
Though any restaurant can serve kosher-style food, actually gaining kosher certification means enrolling in a rigorous set of procedures. There’s absolutely no mixing meat with dairy products, absolutely no pork products and so on. Levanon’s supplies come from certified kosher vendors (which can double his costs), and a local rabbi helped with kosher certification by designating what’s called a mashgiach, or trusted representative, to work onsite and enforce kosher rules. Kosher also means closing on Saturdays. Levanon says it’s worth it, partly because kosher also means much healthier food because of strict rules for keeping animals healthy and in keeping processing facilities strict. Kosher also means the restaurant can appeal to Muslims who follow similar diet rules called halal. He’s started catering to University of South Tampa groups, and he’s reaching out to local Jewish synagogues. That’s an impressive project, said Rabbi Uriel Rivkin of Young Israel in Tampa, which does some of its own kosher catering by preparing food in their facility. “It can be very difficult,” Rivkin said. “I get calls all the time from Jewish Orthodox businessmen who come to visit Tampa with their whole family and can’t find a kosher restaurant. The entire west coast of Florida, we don’t have anything.” Here’s the twist. Levanon wanted to get into business quickly in a lucrative area, so he picked University Mall adjacent to USF. It’s a food court space next to Chick-fil-A. “If they can stay closed Sundays and do so well,” Levanon said, “I don’t see why we can’t. I have a dream of opening up a Yummy Grill in every mall in America.” By this summer, he hopes to open his second location and build from there. Other retail, restaurant and trend news around town: Marshall’s will open its newest location in the Tampa region May 9 at the Summerfield Crossing shopping center at 13120 U.S. 301. The home goods and apparel discounter is a sister company of T.J. Maxx, and with this store will have almost a dozen locations in the Tampa Bay area. At one point, the company targeted a space in another planned complex in the south county area called Southshore Commons, but that project hasn’t moved as quickly as anticipated, and Marshall’s moved on. Verizon Wireless is taking a cue from Apple and offering a wireless backup system for your phone and tablet called Verizon Cloud. Similar to Apple’s iCloud, the Verizon system will save information on your phone like contacts, call logs, messages, music, photos and videos. The first 500 megabytes are free, which should cover most of your non-video data. For 25 gigabytes, there’s a $2.99-per-month rate, then 75 gigs for $5.99 and 125 for $9.99. The Android operating system version is available now, with Apple iOS version coming soon. Target is relentless in partnering with outside brands. Architect and designer Michael Graves helped transform Target into a design-savvy retailer, and almost every aisle has a celebrity brand, (i.e. Giada de Laurentiis pasta sauce) not to mention the new home goods brand Threshold. Now add Wired magazine to the mix. Target cut a deal with Conde Nast magazine to have Wired reporters and editors “curate” a mix of electronics and gadgets over 12 weeks through Father’s Day and the graduation season. There are sneaker fanatics and people who are not sneaker fanatics, and the two may never truly understand each other. But here’s something new from Nike for those fanatics: a deal with Instagram that lets people upload photos to an online Nike system that analyzes the images and designs sneakers from the color palate. For instance, an in-flight photo of an airliner wing and puffy clouds produces an AirMax shoe with light-grey background, sky-blue accents and copper/gold Nike swoosh (It was a Southwest airliner.) Prices vary widely, depending on the kind of shoe you start with. There’s a bunch of examples at photoid.nike.com.