Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Pie For A Pie In Hasidic Crown Heights 

In the niche world of kosher business there are only so many pieces of the pie  — and everyone wants a slice.

Thanks to the flourishing direction Crown Heights has been going in the past few years, the Brooklyn neighborhood has become the home to many successful Hasidic businesses, and recently added one more to the list. However, not everyone is happy about it.

In early March, kosher gourmet pizza spot, Calabria, opened its doors to customers …  and objection. Across the street from the new eatery sits an established restaurant that also specializes in kosher pizza. Basil Pizza & Wine Bar has been a proud purveyor of kosher pizza on Kingston Avenue for the past seven years, and in an effort to maintain its individuality, its owners are suing the new shop. But the showdown didn’t happen in a typical courtroom.  Basil proprietor, Danny Branover, took the issue to the local Beit Din — a rabbinical court.

Settling matters of business rivalries in the kosher court is not that unusual. (Remember the menorah feud last Chanukah?)

In this case, Branover cited the Jewish law of Hasagat Gevul, which translates to “infringement of boundary.” The issue extends beyond where the new restaurant is situated: Branover also takes issue with the style of pizza Calabria serves. He claimed that it was too similar to their “specialty” pizza, which could jeopardize business. Even though Calabria stated their pies are, “Roman-style,” with a thick, rectangular shape that in no way resemble Basil’s thin-crust pies, Branover pressed on.

And he won the favor of the court. But Calabria is still running its shop across the street. They simply had to change their pizza and now boast about their “New York-style pizza” on their website.

While the Beit Din is not technically a court of law and cannot actually enforce its rulings, it does have potential power when it comes to obtaining a hashgacha, a kosher certification, from the local certification agency (even though there are neighboring certification groups that could provide the certificate). But more importantly, contesting the jurisdiction of the Beit Din could sully a brand’s image in the neighborhood. Then again, people love pizza.

In typical Talmudic fashion, these laws can trigger endless debate. According to the Jewish law of Hasagat Gevul, one interpretation states that competition is a positive thing if it doesn’t impede upon the original store. Others contest that similar business can’t exist in the same area. The philosophical exegeses can ping pong back and forth forever.

But for now, this particular biblical battle has been put to rest. And there’s one thing everyone can agree on: the art of pizza is a religious experience.


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