With the opening of the new restaurant Jezebel I thought it would be relevant to interview Henry Stimler. Jezebel is located in SoHo in a townhouse that is decorated with creative Jewish art done by all local New York artists. In addition to great food and atmosphere, the restaurant is kosher. He has opened a truly unique restaurant that fills a void in the restaurant scene.
Henry Stimler and Menachem Senderowicz at Jezebel
What made you decide to open Jezebel?
Menachem and me have been friends for a while. We are very involved in the Jewish community for young people all over New York. We have always felt that there was tremendous lack of a place that was cool, fun with great food and service that happens to have kosher certification. All the kosher restaurants that we know are not really the places we would go to hang out with our friends. Even though the restaurants may be strictly kosher they don't provide what we want on every level. If you go out to other restaurants in the city that are not kosher you can have everything you want from great drinks to ambiance to food. We felt that was lacking in our market.
Has the opening been what you expected?
It's my first restaurant so I don't really have anything to compare it with but in terms of being happy it was great. The reception has been positive and it was nice to see people from the community mingling together. There is a good vibe about this place and people are excited to have it open.
What makes a kosher restaurant different from another restaurant?
It's really all about education. Kosher food doesn't have the best reputation. I want to educate people and tell them that kosher food is healthier and cleaner. We have a full time rabbi in the kitchen who examines everything single leaf that comes in here. It's like a second check for the food. We are cleaner than any other restaurant because of that check. There are no bugs or pesticides. The regulations on kosher food are immense. Every animal that we serve has to be clean and well fed. It has to be slaughtered humanely and can't have a whole in the heart or be very old.
Chef Joel Sommerstein, Rabbi Uri Ivri and Chef Bradford Thompson
The Rabbi's station
Why do you think there hasn't been a kosher restaurant like this before?
It hasn't really been demanded. Kosher restaurants are full because of the already built in target audience. It's important for us to be a great restaurant first that everyone would come to. The kosher is just a bonus.
What's your favorite dish on the menu?
I eat the lamb burger every night. I'm obsessed with it and I think it's the greatest burger I will ever get to eat.
Tell me about the name Jezebel.
It's based on the Bette Davis movie from 1955. The whole premise of the movie is that she stands out. We know what we are doing is unique so we wanted to stand out and the name reflects that. In a market full of one thing we are the complete opposite. We are not a tried and tested recipe for success like every other kosher restaurant. We are not in the same location as most of the other kosher restaurants as we are downtown.
How important is social media for the restaurant?
With social media you need something that will tell people instantly where you are. That's how we came up with the temporary Jezebel tattoos, I knew it would be a fun marketing idea and people would love to take pictures of them and post them on Instagram. Social media is so important now. When you are going out you aren't calling people and seeing where they are but looking through their feeds. When you keep seeing the Jezebel tattoo in your feed, you see that your friends are all there and it makes you want to come and meet them
Are you worried about offending anyone with the murals?
No. It's really all positive and playful. We have taken great pieces of art and juxtaposed pictures of Jewish celebrities. People seem to be getting a kick out of it. We are not here to offend anyone.
What kind of experience do you want the customer to have when they dine here?
From the minute they walk in I want them to feel like they are in a beautiful space with an attention to detail and a real sense of pride. I want them to experience the great service and food and to come back again.
All photos by Jordana Zizmor