Kosher restaurant closes due to lack of community interest

Kimberly Railey

For owner Ken Hechtman, choosing to open his all-kosher Malibu Pizza and Pasta restaurant was risky in an area where five similar eateries had shut down. Now, four years later, Hechtman has also decided to close his own Skokie enterprise.

“I feel horrible because it’s a beautiful restaurant,” Hechtman said. “The more kosher restaurants making money, the more vibrant the city is.”

Hechtman said local residents’ lack of patronage ultimately triggered his decision Tuesday to kill operations at 3353 Dempster St. During summers, Malibu Pizza and Pasta attracted customers from out of town but could never find that support from Chicagoans, he added.

Even during times of economic boom, Hechtman said the Jewish community was inadequately supportive. The area’s large Orthodox population doesn’t eat out very often, he said.

“Sadly, the Chicago religious community does not support their kosher restaurants,” he said. “The lack of interest in kosher restaurants is just as sour as it’s ever been. The landscape that has changed is that people have less money.”

Hechtman, who also owns the adjacent kosher Ken’s Diner, said the community’s interest in it is “an anomaly.” Ken’s Diner serves kosher meat products, while Malibu Pizza and Pasta offers kosher dairy products.

After weighing the option of closing down the eatery for winter and opening up again for next summer, Hechtman said it “just wasn’t worth staying open.”

Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein, director of the Tannenbaum Chabad House at Northwestern, said kosher diners are only financially viable if they create an environment for non-kosher followers as well.

“There is probably enough Orthodox Jews to support additional restaurants in the Chicago-Skokie community, but in order to truly be successful, you have to be able to reach out to beyond the orthodox crowd,” said Klein, who used to order the restaurant’s food for Chabad events.

Martin Amesquita, steward of Alpha Epsilon Pi, said he has ordered food from Malibu’s Pizza and Pasta for members since assuming his position this spring. The restaurant was favorable due to its low costs and location, he said.

“We have a decent number of members who keep kosher,” the Weinberg sophomore said. “We have a really good rapport with Malibu. We did so much business with them.”

Amesquita said the restaurant was also convenient because he could purchase kosher meats from the adjacent Ken’s Diner. He said he now will have to split orders, instead of being able to purchase kosher meat and dairy products all in the same place.

Klein said the whole community loses when a restaurant like Malibu Pizza and Pasta closes.

“I’m sad,” Klein said. “I like to see our kosher restaurants survive and grow and develop.”

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