Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Pushcart That G-d Blessed

Before stepping into his pushcart on Remsen Street in Brooklyn Heights, Brauch Yehuda Ganz pulls on a pair of latex gloves, in compliance with the city's food handling regulations. A separate set of rules determines the rest of his attire: navy suit, white shirt, black yarmulke.

Mr. Ganz is a Hasidic Jew, and his aluminum rig is stocked not only with standard pushcart fare like Danish and muffins but also with Jewish specialties like spinach knishes and blintzes. He makes some of the food himself, and orders the rest from suppliers. But no matter the source, he guarantees that every item he sells is absolutely kosher.

He opened the business, Kwik Kosher, nine weeks ago, after learning that several kosher restaurants in the neighborhood had recently closed because they could no longer afford to pay their rising rents, leaving local Hasidim with few places to eat. "If they forget to bring lunch," Mr. Ganz said of his fellow Hasidim, "they have to go the whole day without food."

Indeed, many Orthodox Jews - Hasidic and otherwise - work in the neighborhood and pray at local congregations like B'nai Avraham on Remsen Street. But over the past few years, they watched their dining options dwindle as Pizza Court on Court Street closed, followed by Garden by the Courts on Remsen Street.

So when Mr. Ganz turned up in early July bearing tuna wraps and challah rolls and a document inscribed with a supervising rabbi's contact information, local residents rejoiced. "We were able to find somebody to give us some strength and energy to finish our work," said Roman Yakubov, a life insurance salesman who works in the area. "God sent him to us."

For Mr. Ganz, the decision to operate a pushcart was critical: It enabled him to sidestep the problem of high rents. It was also improbable. Rabbi Shmiel Berger of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who inspects the cart regularly to verify that it meets Hasidic dietary requirements, said he knew of no other kosher pushcarts in the borough, though there is at least one glatt kosher falafel stand in Manhattan.

"There are a lot of pushcarts in New York, but Jewish people eat only from places with supervision," he said, referring to rabbinical supervision, a service he provides to a host of restaurants and catering businesses in Williamsburg and Borough Park. He added that he himself had never eaten anything from a pushcart before trying one of Mr. Ganz's egg sandwiches.

Though Mr. Ganz is still tweaking his menu - last week he added falafel and discontinued fruit slush - he is already on familiar terms with many customers. The other day, he bantered in both Yiddish and English with a succession of patrons wearing yarmulkes, fedoras and Yankees caps, some of who wished him "mazel tov" on his daughter's recent engagement.

So far, he has found that he dislikes just one aspect of the pushcart business. The pushing. To get the cart into position, he must unhitch it from his truck and heave it several yards across the sidewalk. "Every day," he said, "It's a big schlep."


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