Chicken shortage bites kosher restaurant on Melrose

Melrose Bite gives up kashrut due to rising prices and shortages, plus cost of mashgiach

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BP Photo by Olivia Fishman

CRISPY: Originally a vegetarian restaurant, Melrose Bite enthusiastically promoted its switch to chicken in 2021.

By Olivia Fishman, Shalhevet High School

Melrose Bite, the trendy fried chicken joint not far from school, announced an end to its O-K Kosher supervision March 18 and stated it would no longer be serving kosher meat. The update was posted on Facebook by the restaurant, which remains in its same location in the Melrose shopping district. 

 Within a week of the announcement, the restaurant was serving non-kosher meals to the public. Although still serving a similar menu as before, the restaurant now has dairy and bacon along with chicken and beef. 

Mr. Natan Hassan, the owner, said the change was made for financial reasons. 

“Between the cost of a mashgiach, the cost of a [kashrut] certificate and the cost of food, it just was unreasonable for us to continue that way,” Mr. Hassan said in an interview. 

Mr. Hassan said that paying a mashgiach — a fulltime employee who watches how food is prepared — is around $25 per hour for every hour the restaurant is open, with an additional monthly fee for kosher certification that varies by restaurant. 

He said he is hopeful that by switching to non-kosher, the restaurant will remain successful. 

“It significantly drops our cost of goods, whether it’s the products we brought in, or it’s our labor,” said Mr. Hassan. “It allows us a lot higher margin for the product that we’re selling, and it gives us a little more breathing room.”

For example, kosher chicken breasts cost more than twice as much per pound as non-kosher ones, he said.

“Kosher, we used to pay approximately $6 a pound, and currently, [non-kosher chicken] is in the ballpark of $2.50 to $2.75 a pound – both of which are higher than what they used to be,” Mr. Hassan said.

Mr. Hassan also said that when the restaurant was kosher, he noticed the effect of a national chicken shortage on his restaurant. In the non-kosher world, Mr. Hassan has not seen much of a chicken shortage, he said.

“The added strain on having to supply kosher chicken made it that much harder and that much more inconsistent, with not only the availability of the chicken but also the quality of the chicken and the prices we were getting,” Hassan said. 

Melrose Bite first opened as a vegetarian and dairy restaurant in 2019, then switched to meat in 2021.

Located about a mile from school in the heart of the Melrose shopping district, it had been popular with students not only at Shalhevet but at Fairfax High School, which is located much closer and has many more students. 

The chicken shortage – caused at least partly by an epidemic of bird flu – is taking a toll on the national Jewish community, and Los Angeles stores are feeling the effect.

At Glatt Mart on Pico Boulevard, in the days before Pesach, chicken was sometimes absent from the shelves. Noticeably missing on April 12 were boneless chicken thighs and breasts, two very popular cuts of chicken. At Livonia Glatt market nearby, on April 6 there were also no boneless thighs and a very limited supply of boneless chicken breasts.

The reason that the retail places like restaurants or the supermarket across the street … charge more is because our suppliers and vendors are charging us more.”

— Stuart Feldman, the manager of Lieder’s on Pico

Stuart Feldman, the manager of Lieder’s on Pico, described his situation on April 14. Passover was starting the next night.

“We’re gonna run out,” Mr. Feldman said in an interview. “What it is is that the vendors have now rationed to the restaurants. Where I used to buy, let’s say, 20 boxes of chicken breast a week, now they’re only gonna give me three a week.” 

Mr. Feldman also said that the rising prices of his products were a result of suppliers’ increasing prices and in particular Pesach considerations.

At Lieder’s, with one location on Pico and one on La Brea Avenue, prices on the Pesach menu were almost double what they charge on their typical menu. For example, while their chicken fire poppers were usually $15.99 per pound, Pesach chicken fire poppers were $23.99 per pound. Chicken schnitzel, usually $15.99 per pound, was $25.99 on their Pesach menu. 

Part of the reason was the cost of kashering the store for Pesach. 

“Kashering the kitchen, kashering the equipment, takes about a day-and-a-half to two days usually, and it can run anywhere between $5,000 to $9,000 or $10,000 to kasher the store,” said Mr. Feldman. 

But he said suppliers were also raising their prices.

“The reason that the retail places, like restaurants or the supermarket across the street, whatever it might be, the reason that they charge more is because our suppliers and vendors are charging us more,” Mr. Feldman said. 

At Melrose Bite, skipping Passover kashering altogether and ending the sale of kosher meat has already benefited the bottom line, Mr. Hassan said.

“The consistency of the product is a lot more manageable,” he said.

This story was originally published on The Boiling Point on April 28, 2022.