Monday, January 7, 2013

Kosher is Coming to Buckhead, Fo'sure

Pita Grille, a new kosher Mediterranean restaurant, is opening soon at the Roswell-Wieuca Shopping
Center on Roswell Road.  

Pita Grille will open its 1,635 square foot restaurant in place of the short lived Swirll Frozen Yogurt, on the side of the center facing Wieuca Road.  The center is anchored by The Fresh Market and is also home to restaurants including Tin Drum, Goldberg's Bagel & Deli, Willy's Mexicana Grill, and the upcoming Cheeseburger Bobby's

Pita Grille is being opened by entrepreneur David Bloom (co-founder of Silverpop) and Roi Levi (formerly of Pita Palace).  Levi left Pita Palace (home to what I currently consider the best falafel in Atlanta) earlier last year and was working as a locksmith in Dunwoody, while Bloom continued to serve on the board of the digital marketing technology business.  Levi will have a similar function at Pita Grille, serving as both ambassador and General Manager.  Surely he will greet everyone with " hello, my friend." 

Bloom tells me that Pita Grille will offer not only Mediterranean staples like falafel and shwarma, but salads, grilled vegetables, fish, and other popular Israeli dishes.  He anticipates pricing at the restaurant will be in line with other fast-casual operations such as Figo and Doc Chey's. 

I had the opportunity to try a burger that David made for a Hanukkah celebration last year and believe me when I tell you, it is LEGIT.  I've made an effort to limit my red meat consumption, but I ate three burgers!

Given Atlanta's significant Jewish population, 9th largest in the country, there is surely a market for restaurants such as this.  Of course, it's not just Jews who enjoy such cuisine, non-Jews (or Gentiles, in the Jewish world) have become fans of kosher and in some areas, halal eateries, given the perception that the food is of higher quality and healthier.

Pita Grille will face some immediate issues related to both competition and location.

Pita Grille is opening in a space that most recently housed a failed FroYo shop and offers zero "drive by" visibility from Roswell Road.  Additionally, Cafe Posh is located not far away in nearby Fountain Oaks Shopping Center.  Cafe Posh, though not kosher, serves similar fare at a similar price.  Also, Fuego Mundo, a South American eatery, is located in The Prado, a few miles north of Pita Grille, and like Pita Grille, is a kosher meat restaurant. 

On the positive side, Pita Grille's kosher designation will make it a destination restaurant not only for locals, but many people from around the city.  The restaurant may lack Roswell Road frontage but it does have plenty of virtually exclusive nearby parking.  Having Levi, with an established following and personable demeanor, will surely be a plus for the restaurant as well.  Additionally, the Chabad Israeli Center is located a little north on Roswell, providing what could be a steady lunch and/or dinner crowd.  

Kosher restaurants aren't always a hit in Atlanta. 

Moshe's Mediterranean opened in the Mount Vernon shopping center in early 2011 and by early 2012, was closed.  Moshe's, like Pita Grille, was a kosher meat restaurant, but unlike what Bloom plans, was a sit down, full-service restaurant.  Having been to Moshe's a couple of times, I will say, they had some of the best pita in Atlanta, likely a result of the fact that they literally made the soft bread, to order, in front of you.  Moshe's location, in a once Harris Teeter-anchored shopping center was not the best, and surely contributed to their inability to keep the doors open.  I'm told the owners still operate a catering business by the same name. 

Closer in town, Wall St. Pizza closed a while back after lasting for many years at Loehmann's Plaza, near the intersection of North Druid Hills and Briarcliff Roads.  Wall St., a dairy kosher restaurant, was located in close proximity to the large Jewish population near Toco Hills, a neighborhood also home to kosher landmarks like Pita Palace, Broadway Cafe, and The Kosher Gourmet. 

OU4U, later renamed Cafe Noga, was located on Hammond Drive in Sandy Springs, and was in business for a few years offering both catering and seated meals but the restaurant closed this past year.  The restaurant started out as a dairy, vegetarian restaurant but later dropped the vegetarian designation, though it remained dairy kosher. 

Fuego Mundo no doubt has a worse location than Pita Grille, but with substantial marketing and neighborhood partnerships, is seeing increased restaurant traffic and is one of the better performing restaurants in the center.  

Some kosher businesses have flourished.

East Cobb-based Ali's Cookies opened its second location last year in Perimeter Place and offers a wide variety of certified kosher cookies and cookie cakes.  Closer intown, within Kroger Toco Hill, Chai Peking has been serving kosher Chinese cuisine since 1997 and has a devout following. 

Former Top Chef contestant and Atlanta local Eli Kirstein was briefly the executive chef at Solo, a New York area kosher restaurant that featured Asian influenced Mediterranean cuisine. Although I'm told Kirstein does plan to open his own restaurant in Atlanta, it's highly unlikely it will be a kosher establishment.

Pita Grille, Yum Bunz and The General Muir are the restaurants I'm most looking forward to this year.   What restaurant are most looking forward to this year?  Are you eager to try Pita Grille?  Who do you think makes the best falafel or shwarma in Atlanta?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below. 


glen said...

Interesting, but not anything that makes me want to jump up and down for joy. Mediterranean seems to be the new Froyo or Burger joint of Atlanta. It's all over the place! When I saw your tweet, I was thinking that NaanStop was openning up nearby. The all Kosher aspect is interesting, but not a big draw for me. Location wise, I would probably check it out if the location was above 285 or over in Dunwoody Village. What would really excite me would be a Goldberg's or other Bagel/deli place openning up in North Sandy Springs(Hammond or above.)

Anonymous said...

Atlanta is littered with the hopes and dreams of many a Kosher restaurant entrepreneur. This one is not even located in a place where there are many kosher observant Jews so it's facing an uphill battle from the start. On top of that, non-Kosher customers are not going to pay the Kosher tax to eat there no matter how good it tastes. In general, the Kosher factor adds at least 40% to your normal food prices. No thanks.

AJ said...

Glen - There's a Goldberg's at 285 & Chamblee Dunwoody in the Kroger Shopping Center.

Anonymous said...

I love falafel so I am excited about this new restaurant. The only other place on Roswell Road that has falafel is Posh Cafe. Their falafel is above average but overpriced, and the people that run the place are so surly and unfriendly that it makes eating there unpleasant. I haven't had any particularly memorable falafel in Atlanta. The ones at Pita Palace aren't bad but pale in comparison to the delicious falafel commonplace in Israel (and in New York now too.)

Anonymous said...

Another place I remember was 12 Oaks Bbq on Scott Boulevard in Decatur. They served kosher bbq -beef, smoked chicken and turkey, no pork obviously. I always wondered who their market was. Most folks who like bbq especaially enjoy pork bbq, and how many people can there in Atlanta who love bbq but keep kosher.

Anyway, the one time I went there, the only thing you could get was the all you can eat buffet, for like $18. I was not that hungry so we went to Maddies next door. 12 Oaks closed soon after that.

Anonymous said...

Kosher does not have to be a price point of 40% higher. Take The House of Dogs in Miami Beach, a hot dog and burger joint with excellent fare and Beyond Shem Tov a dairy restaurant with reasonable pricing
and portions with their pizza, soups, salads and fish. How do they manage. Those are the casual
types of Kosher that would do very well in my opinion in Atlanta with the Kosher and non-kosher populations. I do agree location, location, location is essential. The Sandy Springs area could use a kosher dairy pizza place. Wall Street was out there several years ago. How about a Beyond Shem Tov's?
How about a breakfast/lunch kosher diner?

Anonymous said...

Anyone have the new Pita Grill phone # at Roswell + Wieuca?

Anonymous said...

Fuego Mundo does plenty of business both inside and outside of the kosher market. I don't think their prices are any higher than they would be at an non-kosher establishment. Good food and good management will sell themselves.

Anonymous said...

Feugo mundo is a ripoff with a side of attitude. their portions are so small and prices outta control....

Anonymous said...

Here is some more info - including their contact info and hours of operation

Anonymous said...

I was very much looking forward to Pita Grille but after a few visits now, I will be returning to my first love, Pita Palace. It may be further but it's worth it!

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