Last Sunday, the OK Kosher Certification agency removed certification from a Crown Heights gourmet pizza restaurant — one that had recently been involved in a separate drama.
The restaurant, Basil, which sued a neighboring pizza restaurant in the local beit din, or rabbinical court, last winter, allegedly violated the terms of its certification agreement when a landscaper came into the restaurant on Saturday to trim the bushes outside. According to a Facebook post by Basil, “Due to a big misunderstanding, the OK abruptly removed their certification because the building’s landlord performed maintenance work outside of Basil on Shabbos. For an odd reason, this was misconstrued as Chilul Shabbos on Basil’s part. To reiterate, none of our Kashrus standards have been compromised in the slightest.”
However, because the landscaper did enter the restaurant unsupervised, the OK certification organization was left to question whether the landscaper went into the kitchen and “treyfed up” the restaurant. After Shabbat was over, the OK requested video footage from the camera — there’s one in all kosher-certified restaurant kitchens. When Basil wasn’t able to provide the footage immediately, the OK told Basil to shut down operations until the agency was able to review the tapes.
This was just before the Saturday night crowds were to arrive. And, likely not wanting to lose a day (or, in this case, night) of potential business (especially when the Sabbath and holidays severely cut into an already low-profit business model), Basil opened on Saturday night without the OK’s permission.
As a result, the OK pulled its certification.
In defense of the OK’s decision, Elan Kornblum, administrator of the Facebook group Great Kosher Restaurant Foodies, wrote, “supervisions do not feel good taking away business from a Jewish owner (they know and respect Danny Branover and say he’s a friend) and so it’s not something rash that they do…They just lost a client and will not get paid. It hurts their ‘business’ and the fallout and PR are damaging.”
The OK posted the following statement on its own Facebook page: “Basil NY violated the Kashrus Standards of their contract with OK Kosher. They were not willing to maintain the standards that are required under the Certification Contract. Therefore we had no choice but to remove certification.”
Basil posted its own statement, stating that the OK removed certification due to “a misunderstanding of issues not related to kashrus.” Basil is now looking for certification but, in the interim, it “will continue providing the highest standards of kashrus under the self certification of Menachem Mendel Schneerson OBM of Kehilas Bais Schnei-Or, with Mashgichim on premises from open to close. We assure our customers that all products and ingredients used are strictly kosher.”
However, according Dani Klein of Yeahthatskosher.com, self-certification by Rabbi Schneerson means Basil is using someone who has a financial stake in the company to ensure kashrut standards. As a result, for some kosher consumers, especially those who are strict about their kashrut observance, that kind of conflict of interest would now make Basil a problematic restaurant to eat at.
Some people on social media commented that this was perhaps “karma,” or some divinely ordained payback for Basil’s lawsuit against neighboring pizza store Calabria a few months back. A meme was even posted showing warring chefs with pizza paddles with the caption, “And Calabria pulls ahead…Pizza Wars round two.”
Questions still remain, such as why a landscaper was at the building in the first place. Looking at photos of the storefront, the only “bushes” are little more than potted plants that are used to section off the sidewalk for outdoor seating. And why would the landscaper require access to the restaurant? There are electric outlets outdoors (to plug in fans during the summer months and electric heaters on chilly fall evenings).
It’s unclear what exactly happened, and the OK and Basil did not return calls for comment. We will update this post when they do.
In the meantime, Basil continues to search for alternate certification.