The Orthodox World Gets Its Own Indie Meat Magazine
“The goal was always to create a magazine that would be gorgeous and stunning, whether it was kosher or not,” says Shifra Klein, sitting in her Long Island home slash workspace, where she and her husband Shlomo create “Fleishigs”, a kosher magazine dedicated to meat.
Fleishigs magazine is glossy and well-shot, and it appears to be the Orthodox world’s answer to indie food magazines like Lucky Peach, Edible Brooklyn and Jarry. “One of the things we learned over the years is that kosher is almost not enough of a niche,” says Shifra. “So that’s why we’re Fleishigs.” Fleishigs, a Yiddish term for food made of, or prepared with, meat, offers a niche response to the question of how to further dole out the soft-core kitchen porn to a religious community already obsessed with food. “As a kosher consumer, if I wanted vegetarian food, I’d get Vegetarian Times. But there’s not much about meat,” she adds.
While Fleishigs doesn’t cater specifically to men, having the meat-centric focus has brought in the elusive male demographic. “There was nothing out there for men,” says Shlomo. “And since we started, there are a lot more men in the kitchen. Men cooking, men barbecuing, men chefs, and in the kosher market there was nothing catering to them.”
Fleishigs has a column called butcher’s cut, and one of its big passions is educating people about meat, “because it’s a bit of a mystery,” says Shifra. The Kleins guess that about 35% of Fleishigs’ social media audience are men.
Fleishigs is a full-time job for Shifra and Shlomo. They were the creators of the now-defunct Bitayavon magazine, the first kosher cooking magazine on the market, which housed recipes which were ahead of their time for the Orthodox world, like vegan fish-sauce and salt-crusted fish.
“We were very typical results of the yeshiva system, until we started the magazine,” says Shifra. “The plan when we started was that it was going to be a hobby.”
“An unofficial reason why we started the magazine is because in the typical Crown Heights world, everyone has their seven kids and that gives people a lot of purpose and meaning in life, but we were going through secondary infertility and we decided we were going to stop trying to have kids,” says Shifra. “At that point the magazine was like our other child.”
Bitayavon was awarded the hottest launch of 2011 by Media Industry Network. “We went to this breakfast in the Hyatt, and we were like these two ‘shmo’s from Crown Heights,” said Shifra. “We had absolutely no clue,” says Shlomo. “We were sitting there with executives from People magazine, TIME magazine, STAR…we didn’t even know how to network. They said one of us we would have to speak, and I was like, me? I’m getting out of here.”
They got Bitayavon issues into Barnes and Noble as part of their award-winning launch. To get advertisers, Shifra stormed into the the Royal Wine office and demanded a meeting with the person in charge of marketing. “We have had a relationship with them since,” said Shlomo.
For the first issue of Bitayavon, Shifra had 10,000 copies printed. “The distributor looked at me like I flew off the moon,” says Shifra. “I assumed there are so many people in Borough Park, there are so many people who keep kosher, everyone’s going to want it.”
Within two to three months of Bitayavon publishing its first edition, the copycats began to arrive. Mishpacha created its own food magazine, there was something called Bits and Bites, and then there was Jamie Geller, who eventually approached them to merge their magazines.
“When you join a brand like Jamie Geller, it’s about Jamie Geller, and that was fine with us,” says Shifra. “’Bitayavon’ never said Shlomo and Shifra Klein on it.”
“The only condition she really had was that we would take on their name,” says Shlomo. “It was a good deal, she had good investors and it made sense.”
They were doing what they loved with less worries about financial security. Then Jamie Geller quietly rebranded two years ago, from the Joy of Kosher to just Jamie Geller, and the magazines turned into seasonal cookbooks. Shifra still worked on Geller’s cookbooks, and Shlomo on her marketing and sales, but the Kleins were beginning to dream about their own food magazine.
Currently Fleishigs has just over 2,000 subscribers, selling for $6 an issue, and $55 a subscription. “It takes time for any startup to make money,” says Shlomo, “but we’re headed in the right direction.” In a matter of 4 months, the Fleishigs Instagram account accrued 11,000 engaged followers. One way they did this was with what they call “live articles,” in which influencers are invited to dinners to post about the dinner as it occurs, to get people curious about the upcoming article.
In Fleishigs’ masthead, next to the usual list of editors and kitchen assistants and photographers, the Orthodox Union is listed as a rabbinical authority, and kosher grocery Gourmet Glatt is listed as the test kitchen sponsor. The OU is there to answer all kinds of technical questions, like if a pre-seasoned cast iron cooking pot has to be kosher, and how to make it so, and Gourmet Glatt provides some of the materials of the glossy photoshoots, which aren’t cheap. Shlomo approximates that he spent $900 on flanken for a recent flanken photoshoot.
As with all glossy food publications, food becomes code for class, and the expensive cuts of meat discussed in Fleishigs magazine exist outside of the real world, as an extended browsing session on Instagram would. “There’s a certain aspirational aspect to all magazines,” says Shifra. “If it’s too much of your everyday thing, there’s nothing interesting about it. if we did an article about truffle hunting in Tuscany, reading about is its own experience.”
But it’s not all aspirational. The recipes are all triple-tested on average cooks, who are paid $15 an hour to come over and make sure the recipes are doable.
And there’s the intra-community dialogues that can only happen within the confines of a Jewish publication, written by Jews to be read by Jews, like a recent article on ‘To Tip Or Not To Tip?’ Within Fleishigs, a discussion on tipping is productive, but outside of it, an article about Jews discussing tipping might imply stereotypes of the cheap, greedy Jew. The Kleins agree, but add that “it might be an interesting read for people outside the community.”
And the Kleins never stop working. “Last night, I came home three o’clock in the morning from doing a cholent crawl for the next issue,” says Shlomo. “And I didn’t see Shifra this morning because she woke up at 6 a.m. to go on a babka crawl.”
“Every day there’s something else,” says Shifra.
And the subscribers are grateful for that.
Shira Feder is a writer. She’s at [email protected] and @shirafeder