Far West H-E-B Renovations Offer Greater Kosher Selection and Amenities
By Tonyia Cone
The H-E-B Kosher Store on Village Center Drive off Far West Boulevard received a facelift in the fall of 2015. But that was not H-E-B’s only effort to provide customers with an improved kosher experience. Other areas of the store, including the fresh pressed juice area and completely renovated bakery, are now certified kosher as well.
Ephraim Brock, H-E-B Kosher Store manager, explained that many more mainstream grocery items are now kosher than when the Kosher Store was founded in 1997. So in 2013, H-E-B began looking into ways to reinvent the flagship Kosher Store in the Texas chain.
“Our life revolves around Friday night,” Brock said, explaining that in preparation for Shabbat, his own family at the time shopped at Randalls, Trader Joe’s and Costco.
H-E-B executives asked Brock what the company needed to change to become a one stop shop for those who keep kosher. He recommended they make the bakery kosher, offer more food service items and expand the grocery selection.
“So that’s exactly what they did,” said Brock, one of the store’s two mashgichim (kashrut, or Jewish dietary law, supervisors).
With the exception of cakes made in a San Antonio facility and a few other items, the bakery is now certified kosher by Rabbi Yosef Levertov of Chabad Lubavitch of Greater Austin, who also oversees the Kosher Store.
Renovating the bakery was a significant investment that included the purchase of pots and pans, tabletops, three dough proofers and three ovens – one dairy, one pareve, and one non-kosher. They were able to kasher (make kosher) trays and mixers.
H-E-B expanded the Kosher Store, shifted its focus to food service, and purchased new rotisserie chicken equipment and a new grill.
New products were brought in from New York and Israel, including Osem, Streit’s and Pereg items and Klik and Paskesz candies. Brock explained that while these brands are harder to find than Manischewitz, H-E-B is maintaining prices by purchasing directly from manufacturers.
“What they’re trying to do is make the Kosher Store not necessarily the Kosher Store here but make this H-E-B the kosher H-E-B,” he said.
With the increased emphasis on food service, the company is also working to give the Kosher Store more of a restaurant feel, with a new drop ceiling, lighting and digital menu boards.
Test kitchen chefs reworked the menu, which now features a falafel wrap; apple walnut salad; latke burger; fish sandwich; salami, lettuce and tomato sandwich; and lox, lettuce and tomato sandwich.
Some existing menu items were reinvented. While some old favorites remained, burgers were changed from frozen quarter pound patties to fresh 1/3 pound smash burgers.
A kids menu was also added, including chicken tenders and a choco-challah banana sandwich, a grilled sandwich made of bananas and Hashahar Ha’ole, an Israeli chocolate spread, on challah.
Amy Kritzer, author of the Jewish cooking blog and Jewish Outlook column, “What Jew Wanna Eat,” and H-E-B kosher consultant, is currently working with the company to create Shabbat meal deals that will include a rotisserie chicken, challah and two sides for a fixed price.
“I already go to the Far West H-E-B when I have to get specific ingredients. I will probably get lunch there now too. It’s more of a destination; you can get your schmaltz and kosher products and lunch too,” she said.
Levertov said the most challenging aspect of the renovation process has been trying to hire an additional mashgiach. He explained that H-E-B would like to hire another for the Kosher Store in order to extend its hours, but the job requires an Orthodox Jew who is “religious and God-fearing,” which limits the pool of those eligible for the job. And it is not work that would attract someone to move to Austin.
Brock explained H-E-B leadership wanted to invest in the update because of its culture of community investment and because they recognized Austin’s Jewish community growth. He believes Austin community members have a strong Jewish cultural identity that carries over to food spending, and the increase in local Jewish infrastructure, like the addition of an eruv, is attracting more Orthodox Jews.
Levertov said easily accessible kosher food will encourage more people to keep kosher and will make visiting Austin easier for those who keep kosher.
Proving that point at the next table over, Menachem Senderowicz, a Belgium native who now lives in New York and has visited Austin regularly for work for the past year, explained on his first visit to the Kosher Store that he previously found it very hard to find kosher food in Austin.
“I’m like a kid in a candy store,” he said. “I’ve been smiling for the last 10 minutes.”
Kritzer said that while it is true that Jews in Austin want kosher food options, it is a great addition to the city’s food scene in general.
“Austin is a huge foodie city, and there are not many options if you want falafel or pastrami,” she said. “You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy a pastrami on rye.”
H-E-B Kosher Store
7025 Village Center Dr. Austin, TX 78731
Sunday – Thursday 10:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Friday & Erev Yom Tovim 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.